The Letter

Dear One,

I know some days you feel like I am little more than a nag. A pain in the ass. Something you must tolerate or worse…endure. Some days you find me annoying or challenging and some of my ways are hard if not impossible for you to understand. I know that some days you wish you could trade me in for another. Start all over again. Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance. You and I both know I can’t stick around forever. In the meantime, try to see what I have to offer. Try to see my beauty. Under these wrinkles and scars I am still me.

 It’s true. Some days I hide my good qualities well below the surface. Some days I really don’t make any sense, some days even I think I’m just difficult, actually some days I really am just a bitch. It’s true. A selfish, heartless bitch. But I hope you can love me anyway. Please love me anyway. In fact, I am begging you to love me anyway. You see, the more you love me, the more I will love you back. I promise.

I miss you when you don’t come play with me. Get dirty. Be stupid. Have fun. Laugh at the little things. Come play with me and I swear we will get along better. I pinky swear it!

Embrace me. Hold me like you mean it. Seriously. I actually become more beautiful when I am in your embrace. I can’t explain it but it’s true. It’s as if my bitchiness doesn’t matter anymore. It’s as if the sharpness of my bad days softens and I just become better. On those days, those bad days, be patient. Embrace me. You’ll see. I won’t let you down.

Please, please love me, laugh with me, play with me, embrace me. Do the very best you can with me, especially when I am being a pain in the ass. I want to enjoy every single precious moment we have together. Every single one. 

I want to be wild with you! I want to be real with you. I want you to smile when you think of me. I want them to tell stories about us. I want you right here with me. Right here!  Come on in, trust me, the water is fine. I will be waiting for you….

All my love,

Life.

Not my goose, not my bottle, not my problem

I love this.

shaunkellmft

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I often tell the Story of the Goose and the Bottle. I first heard it as part of the Harvard Mind Body Medicine curriculum. Here it is:
A seeker climbed a mountain to ask the teacher for wisdom. “What is the secret to a happy life?” He asked.
“Tell me how to get a goose out of a bottle,” she replied.
So the seeker returned home to think about it. A week later, he returned and suggested; “smash the bottle to get the goose out.”
“No,” the teacher said. “You must not harm the bottle.”
The seeker returned home for another week to think. He climbed the mountain again and proposed; “crush the goose.”
“No. You must not harm the goose,” the teacher replied.
After another week thinking, the seeker returned a third time. But this time the teacher was not home. So he left a note.
Later that day…

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#8 Bonjour Paris- Bonjour Karen. Paris part one.

I arrived in Paris in the afternoon and easily found my way to Karens flat. She was waiting outside. I knew I would like her, she was a friend of Graces and when I was in Ireland Grace had arranged for me to stay with her. I had been planning to hop a plane or train to one of the cities on my mental list of interesting places and just sort of coin toss the details of those three days but instead I found myself with Karen who will now be a lifetime friend.

Her son is 4 and speaks mostly French but Karen and Fred are trying to get him to speak more English. I read French better than I understand it spoken and I speak only about twenty words, sadly they all involve food, drink and the toilet none of which I would be discussing with this four year old. Karen made dinner so Azriel and I danced to Michael Jackson in the front room. I kept saying “Little dude, I don’t speak french” and he kept saying things I didn’t understand but we danced and I read him bedtime stories, in English, and played with play dough and I got a hug and a kiss goodnight and permission to sleep on the floor.

Karen is an expat, with a French husband living her dream in Paris as a tour guide and one of the funniest people I know. She owns a company that does walking tours of the city and she invited me to join her on the tours she has scheduled over the weekend. A Jewish tour, and a night tour. She tells good, moderate and bad jokes along the way, the kind that make you laugh even though you don’t want to.

I am not Jewish and have a hard enough time keeping track of what I did yesterday let alone studying Jewish history in Paris so I learned a LOT on Karen’s tour. Since Charlie and the recent hostage situation in which several Jews were killed in the supermarket, the streets are lined with military and police, especially at the synagogue entrances, even the lesser known ones.

The family that booked this tour were from America. A couple who wouldn’t say where they were staying or who with. “With someone who works at the embassy” was all of the information they gave. We ate at the most famous Falafel restaurant in the area. It was, of course amazing.

I was convinced that I wanted to go to the Louvre, I figured that I couldn’t possibly visit Paris and not go. Karen tried to talk me out of it. The plan was that I would take the train there alone because she would rather eat lightbulbs than go to the Louvre. Later in the day she would meet me at Pere Lachaise Cemetery and show me the graves of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde before meeting the group for the night tour.

The wait to get in, even with an advanced ticket I could buy from tobacco shop that Karen knew about, was over two hours. Karen got an “Ok, you were right” text from me as I stood in the courtyard in the pouring rain surrounded by french men trying to sell me umbrellas and more asian tourists with selfie sticks than I could ever count smiling with the giant inverted glass pyramid in the back round. Karen in her not-so-gentle-jewish-mother-tone said “I tried to tell you”….. She met me for an impromptu full tour of the cemetery which was far, far better than the Louvre could have been.

We walked from Pere Lachaise to Place de la Republique where the Charlie Memorial is. That was sobering. There is an enormous statue in a large square. Marianne, which is the name traditionally given to the French Republic is on top holding an olive branch and a sword. The symbols of Ladys Liberty, Equality and Fraternity surround the pedestal. Thousands of candles, flowers, photos and letters cover the bottom levels. The statue has been painted and drawn on since the attack and will now forever be a memory to that day. People have written all over the stone and bronze. In French it says “Mohammad would be ashamed of his brothers”, “Make art not war” “We are One”, “One Love, one world” and everywhere it says “We are Charlie”. I didn’t realize the global impact of that day in France until I saw that statue and Karens photos of the march through the streets that closed a large part of Paris.

I don’t feel it is right to mock a persons beliefs or religion but I most certainly don’t think it is right to be killed for it. Twenty five years ago I worked for the Comic News, a satirical, mostly political biweekly newspaper not all that much different than Charlie Hedbo. In fact, very, very much the same. We often chose not to publish certain cartoons as too not offend but others we ran for that very reason. As I walked around the statue I thought that each of those candles was placed there by the hands of a person who was filled with grief and fear and anger and the desire to unite and speak against terrorism. Each word written on that stone had been written by someone. A person not that much different than me. For three years and while pregnant with Maraya, I did the very same work as those people who were killed for publishing the voice of the left. I left the square thinking, I’m not French but I too am Charlie.

We sat in a cafe and had coffee while waiting for the night tour family. A woman from Kenya and her English husband and their two grown sons. We walked the streets of Paris at dusk and spent sunset at the Pantheon. From there we walked down a narrow, dark street where once a barber shop stood. Young men would go into the barber shop and never return until one day a man left his dog tied up outside while he went for a shave and a trim. After a while the dog started barking and didn’t stop which of course drew the attention of the police who discovered that the barber, we will call him the real Sweeny Todd, was selling the boys to the butcher down the road where they became meat pies.

On that same road a stone building had collapsed trapping a mother dove and her babies in the rubble. Her mate brought her food until she was freed by people who watched this amazing act of devotion take place. There is a plaque and the story is written on a wall explaining that the people who witnessed this were so moved by it that they began a sort of occult type worship of the birds. Eventually bird worship was banned. I imagine young man meat pies were as well.

As we stood overlooking the Seine Karen pointed out a butchers tower and told us the legend of a beautiful British girl who would meet young men in the park and invite them home with her. They, being young men would eagerly follow her home only to disappear forever. A detective finally sent out a young man as bait, to wander the park alone looking handsome and available. He was eventually approached by and invited to the home of the beautiful British enchantress. One inside she suggested that she would slip into something more comfortable and disappeared behind a changing screen. The young bait followed and to his horror found the heads of the twenty six missing men. German medical students were studying what a head looks like at death so this enterprising woman was selling heads to the students and bodies to the butchers.

Karen reminded us that Napoleon had said “history is a bunch of lies we all agreed on” and we walked on wondering.

We walked for three hours on this particular tour and saw most of the main sights including Notre Dame, the outside of the Louvre and the old jail with gold rimmed chandeliers, after hearing the meat pie and severed head stories I wondered what they had fed the prisoners in Paris. Karen and I would be meeting her family and their friend Jacques soon. He would be driving us to the places to far to walk. It was cold and windy and I was relieved when we said goodbye to the Kenyan Brits and got into the warm car.

#7 Morning in Hastings

On the third floor of an old Victorian row house in England I wake to the first sign of sun and the sound of gulls. It’s hardly daylight and warm under my feather comforter and although I am tired I am also excited. I am excited to be here, I am excited to go home soon and I am excited to be alive.

I make coffee and sit at the window seat overlooking this part of the city and think about what to write about Paris first. Across the street from me is an area of town that during the Second World War was bombed and destroyed. My hosts tell me that the room I am staying in was damaged in that bombing and rebuilt. The morning sky is blue and the sun reflects off of the window in an old church below me. It is distracting me from thoughts of Paris.

The wind from last night has died down but as I open the window I am greeted by a cold gust of salt air. The sea is a few blocks away, the English Channel. There is a large ship just off shore and in the distance beyond I see cliffs. Last night the ferry from France dropped me in Dover. The white cliffs of Dover tower over the port. I can’t tell if these cliffs I see now are white. Chris and Steve picked me up at the port in the pouring rain. We were several hours late due to high winds and bad weather. They waited patiently and when I arrived they smiled and hugged me. We’ve never met but they are friends of friends. On the way home we talked about life and kids and school and politics and the economy. I took a hot bath while Chris made dinner. More amazing, generous people just became my friends.

The journey here was less than fun and while the kid in front of me on the bus screamed and cried I thought of my iPod, sitting in my car…in Seattle. This is the first time in over two weeks that I have wanted to drown out the world around me so the first time I have missed it.

The old man next to me was literally pulling his eyebrows out. Literally. He said later that he was eighty. As we sat listening to the screaming kid he would reach up, grab an eyebrow hair, yank it out and look at it. I couldn’t decide if it was disturbing but I did decide that before I started doing the same thing I would talk to him. We talked about wine and where different grapes grow in the world. Merlo, Chardonnay, Riesling, ice wine, he said he knows that near Eugene we grow magnificent Pinot Noir grapes though he had never been to Oregon. He said that if we were going to be around that kid much longer we would need a whole lot of wine.

The kid screamed, the mother roller her eyes and ignored him, I sighed heavily and Mike patted my arm saying “We are going to get through this” and we both laughed I was glad he was sitting next to me.

Later on the ferry I walked around for a while before heading to the bar. Mike was standing there as if waiting and waved to me saying “There you are, coffee or whiskey?” As we sipped our whiskey they announced that the sea was rough and winds were high through the channel and that we would be delayed about an hour more. I bought us another whiskey while Mike told me about his wife Tilly. They live in England but have a house in Spain. They stay there for most of the winter because they hate the cold. Tilly decided to stay in England this winter so Mike went alone to Spain but was heading home early. He said he only lasted a few weeks because he missed her bitching and nagging and her cooking and her sexy legs. When I left the bus the old man struggled to stand and gave me a big hug and a pat on the arm “I’m glad to make a friend today” he said in his thick Spanish/British accent. I promised that if he brought Tilly to Oregon I would take them on a wine tour.

I love being awake at sunrise, I always have and as I sit here alone with the gulls and my coffee I am realizing that this is the first morning I have had like this since I left home. Just slow and quiet and calm. Although Steve, Chris and I have two full days planned I don’t feel rushed right now. Maybe it’s the ocean air, the breathtaking view, the sun I’ve hardly seen, or the good night sleep or love or gratitude but I decide to write about Paris later and instead do nothing but watch the light change as the world around me is waking up.

# 6 Irish Pubs

I was warned that there was no way I could keep up with the Irish when it comes to drinking, especially since in real life I don’t actually drink that much. The first night I was feeling somewhat accomplished after 3 pints of Guinness until back at the house Kiah, stared blankly and said “yeah, ok, that’s like lunch”. I decided not to even try to keep up and to definitely not report back to the twenty years old about how “good” I was doing.

It’s cold out here and coal and oil are expensive so it’s also cold inside which explains both the huge number of baby carriages around and the high consumption of alcohol. The “It’s noon somewhere” theory clearly applies here and honestly, was not to difficult to adopt. The Irish coffee by the fire at 11:00 am did warm me up. It’s much warmer indoors in Iceland because they pipe water all over the island including under the sidewalks and certain parts of the highways. Scalding hot water from hot springs is always available and runs through pipes under every building. Birgir said he pays the equivalent of about ten dollars a month to keep his house warm. They use their geo-thermal energy well. Here, it’s whiskey.

All of the pubs have fires burning and all kinds of people congregate around them. All kinds of people that is except for the young girls that can be found in any city anywhere. The ones with 3 inch high heels they can’t walk in, skirts far shorter than the thumb length rule and a constant smile. The girls who are freezing and drinking creamy whiskey drinks, the long blond hair that they flip around when they laugh the only thing keeping them warm do not stand by the fires. Grace and I discuss that that is a hell of a lot of work to get laid and we agree that we are grateful for the wisdom that has come with our years. And… we are grateful for the fire. We ask a man sitting at the table next to us to take our picture which will go on my wall at home.

The next night the same man was in the next pub. He took our picture again I said I felt like a lush and his girlfriend laughed and said “Of course you do, your in Ireland”.

Grace and I explored a couple of castles way out in the countryside and on the way home we stopped at a little country pub near the farm she use to live on. She is friends with Maggie, the owner. There had been a funeral that morning so Maggie served us left over sandwiches as we drank Jameson Whiskey by the fire. The pub was dark and candles burned everywhere. We were the only people in the pub but Maggie lives upstairs so the doors are open even when it’s likely to stay empty. She had been a midwife in London years ago so we had a lot to talk about.

Every week Grace meets up with a friend at another little country pub just next to a cemetery filled with high crosses and surrounded by seemingly endless fields and sheep. We park at the cemetery. The night is cold and clear and very dark out here away from it all. When Grace walks away I crouch down low, nearly lying on the ground, so that when I look up I can see the outline of the crosses and a million stars above me. I feel a little surprised at how peaceful I feel, alone with the darkness and the dead.

Graces friend is an interesting, sweet woman who is also a titled “lady”. Direct relation to Lord Waterford she visits her family at the castle. Had I not been told I would never know. She wore jeans, drank beer and said fuck, but in that nice Irish way.

The story came on the news about the race horse that was recently cloned in Ireland. We talked about how terrifying that is and I’m not entirely sure I made many friends in that pub after I said “The scientist in me finds it fascinating”. And while I do find it terrifying that a select few will have the sort of ultimate power to create a clone army or a master race or manufacture perfect horses or sheep or whatever, I do think that medically, if we were able to maintain some level of morality we could possibly reverse or repair some of the damage we have done as people. The “Lady” said it was interesting viewing it from a scientific perspective rather than religious. I explained that my brain is a somewhat messy combination scientist, artist, believer and skeptic. We agreed it was wonderful to meet, we hugged and said goodbye and I finished my whiskey.

Kyteler’s Inn is the former home to Dame Alice who was the first woman in Ireland prosecuted as a witch and sentenced to burn. She had friends who assisted her out of Ireland to disappear somewhere in England, never to be heard from again. They have been serving food in her former home since the 1300’s. The walls are stone and there are fireplaces in every dining room. Above the fireplace in the bar is what at first glance appears to be a painted portrait of James Smithwick, the beer guru. He is easy to ignore until just at the end of my second pint, in total Harry Potter fashion he starts to move. It doesn’t matter where I move his eyes follow me. He shows me a map of the brewery and does a card trick and winks and laughs. The girl at the table next to me says “your not hallucinating” which was actually a bit of a relief. James Smithwick on the wall in the witches house is delightfully creepy.

I have spent a fair amount of time alone writing in pubs while here and each one of them had a happy fat bartender and a warm fire. I could get use to this whole vacation thing….

#5-Spreading the Dead-Again

St. Mary’s cathedral and cemetery grounds which more than likely is home to the Fulton family dust is under construction and surrounded by a tall fence and cameras. It sits right downtown Kilkenny Ireland, surrounded by pubs and shops. Sheila, the woman I met at the visitors center, after hearing my story and helping me research the family said that if she was me, she’d probably jump the fence. Usually after 30, 35 most people abandon those sorts of ideas, hell, I don’t know, maybe most people abandon those ideas at 20 but that is something I do, jump fences, even now. She looked to be my age and might be the only other 40+ woman I know who would still sneak into a landmark graveyard with a bag of ashes and a bottle of Scotch. I liked her instantly but was relieved she lived nowhere near me. I told her that before I left my brother had said he wouldn’t bail me out if I got arrested which I think pretty much jinxed me. She agreed but also said that St. Mary’s is the most likely place to find what I was looking for.

Jumping the fence was clearly a bad idea so I had a beer instead and decided that every single other thing in life is working out just how it is suppose to so I would wait. Apparently Dad or one or all of the others in my tupperware box didn’t want to be left at St. Mary’s and until something, someone or someplace inspired me I would keep packing them around in my bag.

As we walked over the bridge toward home, a giant Guinness sign on one side and Kilkenny Castle on the other I suggested the castle and Grace said if I put them in the river they could just go with the flow and since St. Mary’s was closed that sounded perfect.

_________
Last summer we decided to have a reunion and spread the ashes of my grandmother who died about 30 years ago, my grand father who died about 15 years ago and my aunt who died three weeks before my Dad, two years ago. Gramps and Grandma Betty had been pulled out of the back of the closet and set on the table on Christmas at my aunts house long enough.

Because this family is not shy about being inappropriate I named the event the “Pyle Family Spread the Dead 2014”. My brother called it the “The Great Bone Chuck”. The cousins, aunts and uncles all came and we ate and drank and visited at a park on the river. My aunt Lea had packaged up little bags full of the combined closet ashes and at the chosen time we all went down to the river with our own bags and set them free. Those of us who could, walked way out into the water and released them into a set of small rapids but the rest tossed them into the still water at the shore. The dust floated and the bigger pieces sank. The once brown sand in the 8 or 10 inches of water nearest the shore was now white. The film over the water just hung out there sticking to your hand if you tried to swirl it up a bit. Almost three human bodies worth of ash just floating like a strange white oil paint on the barely moving water, the bigger chunks of bone visible in the sand. I suppose one of us could have put out more effort into dispersing them but we didn’t.

We went back to the picnic tables where we were drumming, playing poi, drinking and visiting and not one of us could, or would, do anything to stop the group of kids who ran down the little hill at the shore and threw themselves into the water of the Willamette river which we immediately renamed “The River Styx”. They had to have been covered in ashes but it was a hot day and they were little boys splashing in the river. They were oblivious, we were all a combination of mortified and immensely entertained. One or two of them had to have gulped down some water which we decided is one way for the dead to live on….

The ashes I have been packing around, in addition to Dad, were the two leftover bags from that day.

___________

Grace, her daughter Kiah and I walked through the castle grounds to a path along the river Nore that runs through town. Kiah took us to her favorite skinnydipping spot beyond a fence, the castle behind us. There was a shallow area not to different from where we had placed the ashes at the Spread the Dead Bone Chuck reunion over the summer. I told them the story as we walked there.

Down at the waters edge I poured the ashes into the river and they floated like before. The three of us stood watching them in what was very briefly a somber moment or to be exact, about thirty seconds, when out of nowhere a little dog bolted over the knoll behind us and ran straight into the floating ashes and started drinking the water.

He was shoulder deep wagging his tail and lapping up my family. He never even looked at us, just drank his fill and ran off covered in wet ash. Some people pray or cry or say something profound or thoughtful when laying their loved ones to rest.

My thoughtful words were “Seriously? What….the…..fuck?” and we all agreed that it was perfect, and a good thing St. Mary’s was under construction.

When Dad was alive he said it would be cool to mix him with chum and toss him into Odell lake so the fish would eat him. The eagles would eat the fish and he would then fly and swim forever. I guess instead, little boys in Springfield Oregon and dogs in Kilkenny Ireland will have to be his vehicles for world exploration.

I had a couple of handfuls left to leave on the grounds so we put them in part of the rose garden facing the castle and buried them. I told Kiah I was so glad she was there. I felt like I was in the middle of a perfect circle. I was there when she came into the world. I was holding her head at birth. I was holding Dad’s head at death. I heard one of her first heartbeats in this world and I heard my dads last, with the very same stethescope and here we were together.

I recently decided to let my dreams and intuition guide me which is why I am here in the first place. Over the winter I had two important dreams, one was traveling here with little to no plan. I remember living that way before. It’s how I was able to be a midwife, a life usher for both for the birthing and the dying, a mom, and survive cancer, but over the years I forgot a little. I got caught up in doing what I was suppose to do and getting through the day. I forgot to trust. Sure, I trusted a little here and there but I also usually plan, and reason and fix and figure it all out. I didn’t just trust to the point of surrendering. Religious people do that. I don’t have religion but I do have faith and this trip has reconfirmed and redifined that for me.

The spreading of the ashes was transformative as I knew it would be.   And both times I felt good, surrounded by love both old and new. Kathy and Trevor are recent additions to my wonderful life.  Grace and Kaih are not, they are part of an almost forgotten past. In the middle of  it all is now and Now is pretty damn perfect. I think I will stay awile.

 

4-Getting to Ireland

Twenty years ago I assisted Grace with Kiahs birth. We haven’t seen each other for maybe fifteen years but when she read on Facebook that I was traveling she invited me to stay with her in Kilkenny. Ironically Kilkenny is exactly where my grandmothers family, the Futons owned land for three centuries.

Kilkenny is a medieval town in southeast Ireland. They call it the sunny southeast but I’ve yet to see more than a few minutes of sun. They also say is the ninth friendliest place in the world as well as the the gay Capitol of Ireland. I wonder if one has anything to do with the other.

When I switched from the ferry to the bus I bought coffee at the station and spent my time talking with the man who owned the cart. His name was Muhammed from Pakistan. He said he and his wife had always wanted to visit America and he asked me question after question about different parts of the country and how friendly they are or are not to Muslims. He asked why we elected George W. and about our corrupt congress that created a world economic crisis. I said I didn’t vote for Bush, either one and he said “well, no, of course not you…I don’t mean you.”

Those of us who really had very little to do with the fact that Brits now pay tuition in London and there is no socialized medicine in Ireland should get to wear some kind of patch on our bag or something. In London Cash told me that the Brits can’t stand Americans because we lie and cheat and steal from the rest of the world. How sad.

Mohammad and I talked until my bus arrived and I gave him a US quarter and I told him to save it until they make it to America. I said that alone it wouldn’t actually buy him anything but I’ve heard its good luck to carry a coin from where you are traveling to. He said it would be his good luck coin and he would carry it in his pocket until they made it to New York. I said no….west coast. It’s nicer there, we talk to strangers and pick up hitch hikers and make better beer- and we didn’t all vote for Bush.

I arrived in Kilkenny after only sleeping for an hour or so on the ferry floor and none on the hour long bus ride from the terminal. I was beat and hungry but I quickly found a place to get breakfast and tea and called Grace for directions to here house. She suggested taking a cab but I had been traveling overnight and thought a walk would be nice.

I remember hiking up the South Sister with a backpack full of camping gear a couple of years ago and about four hours in feeling like I might literally die on the trail as I was dripping sweat and every muscle in my body was either aching or burning. I knew if I sat down at all I’d still be sitting there weeks later when the first snow fell. This walk through town after ten hours travel and an hour of curling up on the ferry floor with my down jacket as both a pillow and a blanket was a little like that. A little, minus the sweat, plus the cold and rain. I was cursing the chocolate bars and the yoga mat and the extra shoes and the flapjacks and every unnecessary thing in my pack down to the chap stick and extra socks and my book that I was feeling quite sure I could live without at this point. I packed light but 40 or so pounds is still 40 or so pounds. I decided then that I’m either not as bad-ass as I thought I was or far more so simply because I didn’t actually die on the roadside.

A short nap and three pints of Guinness with my old friend in front of the fire in a dark pub was good medicine. That coupled with coming back to the house and reading the note on the fridge that says “At the end of the day ask yourself, has your life brought joy to you? Has your life brought joy to others?” I soon forgot my aching back and sleepless night and thought only of how much joy I really do have in my life.