Earthquake: 4 months later

Tomorrow will mark 4 months since the 7.0 earthquake violently shook my home. We’ve picked up most of the pieces by now. But there are still a few walls to paint after the sheetrock repair, a crumpled brick fireplace to mend when summer comes and one last cupboard to vacuum where shards of glass were hiding under pots and pans. But today I finally tackled the 18 pictures that fell from the wall and either broke their frames or broke the glass. They’ve been filed away under my desk for 4 months and for some reason, I couldn’t force myself to begin the process of taking them out of the frames and measuring the glass. When I laid the first three on the table, the glass shifted and pieces fell out on the table and floor, shattering. And it was this. I still cannot tolerate the sound of breaking glass. It was this sound, as the doorframe shook and creaked in my hands and I rocked back and forth in the darkness. This sound of glass falling and breaking all around me that felt like shards into my soul.

As I took out the broken pieces from the frame, I felt the glass edges and remembered all the small cuts on my fingers and hands as I picked up pieces and shards and fragments from the floor that morning as light finally came. I kept a lot of pieces that just had chips in them–reminders of that day that shifted something in me as the plates of earth shifted. Occasionally we still get a 4.0 aftershock even now. The seismologists told us to expect them for up to a year. When I hear them coming, everything pauses in anticipation and then the shock wave hits, I cringe, I wait. I wonder how big, how long. My two year old granddaughter still clutches her mother’s neck and yells, “No, no, no,” when the earth quakes again.

There has been a lot of talk of earthquakes this week. Two days ago marked the anniversary of the 1964 earthquake that devastated the state. Magnitude 9.2. So much more powerful than the one that rocked my world. Yet my husband, who experienced that quake as a boy, felt this one was in some ways much more violent.

Stores have re-opened in town now, but two schools remain closed for the year, if not permanently. There is a lot of road work to do this summer to complete repair from the earthquake as our two bridges were both damaged. And homeowners all over Eagle River are waiting their turn for the sheetrockers and foundation engineers and inspectors to fix their homes, several which went off their foundation.

It seems such a small thing to simply replace the glass in my pictures compared to all the destruction in this town. Yet each person holds in the cellular memory of their bodies that experience of solid ground no longer solid, no longer dependable. Cracks in the earth, cracks in the pictures, cracks in the soul.

Our kitchen a few minutes after the quake

Loving my Limitations

A teacher in the Diamond Approach, my spiritual path, recently asked a group of us to imagine a stream dancing in the sunlight. Immediately my mind began bouncing to images of Rock Creek near Moose Camp, to Tattler Creek in Denali National Park, to a small nameless creek I sat beside in the Tetons. I could see that light sparkling in them, hear the water gurgling, sense the happiness that filled me.

“What is the difference between that stream and say, and water running in a pipe?” he asked. There was a pause, then one of my classmates called out, “The rocks!”

“Yes,” he said. “The rocks. The things that are obstacles, the limitations. That is what gives the stream the life it has, and supports life.” He went on to suggest that it is the same with our lives; it is our limitations that actually make us human beings, that make us a living stream. When I heard those words, I felt a deep relaxation in my body. Like an inner sigh of letting go.

I’ve spent a lifetime working on my limitations–becoming aware of them, changing my habits, getting educated about them, developing life practices that would hopefully relieve me of them. “Relieve” is a good word to use because my limitations felt like a huge burden to haul around on my road to supposed perfection. While I don’t think all limitations are set in stone, especially my subjective limitations, and that they can change and develop over time, this teaching is a good balance to my constant “trying” to be better. Like the joy and contentment I feel by a sparkling stream full of rocks, I sense the joy there could be in just telling the Truth of who I am and how I am in the present without efforting to be what I’m not right now. There’s accepting and adapting and being kind to myself while being aware of my limitations. Just being a human being. Listening carefully within myself for what can change and what cannot change. Listening for the life that comes with my limitations and makes me who I am right Now– without judgment.

Rock Creek at Moose Camp..

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to the our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry, Collected Poems

Difficult Conversations

Much to my surprise, I’m getting interested in difficult conversations. I have sidestepped them as much as possible most of my life believing that engaging in them would only lead to conflict and a breach in relationships. But lately I’m more aware that difficult conversations are actually a pathway to relating to others at a genuine level beyond being nice and keeping a wary peace.

I’m reading a book now called aptly enough for my exploration of the topic– Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Paton and Sheila Heen. It is that last bit of the title that intrigues me–what matters most. And what matters most to me is getting to the truth of things. What is really going on in this relationship? How did they come to hold that view? Where did our communication become awkward? When did I start giving away a piece of myself in this relationship just to avoid a confrontation?

The authors define a difficult conversation as “anything you find hard to talk about.” What I find gratifying is that much of what they talk about is what we have been learning as volunteers at the Listening Post. What we have called “staying open” and “listening to understand” when hearing things that are difficult, they call “shifting to a learning stance.” Much of that shift means, of course, listening to the other’s story. The shift involves by necessity to stop judging, another hallmark of the Listening Post. Or in their words, to stop arguing about who’s right. After a humbling conversation recently, I realized that I had made some big assumptions about the motivations of a friend. And by listening, I learned where she made assumptions too. We held different opinions–but I had to see that even if I thought I was right, that didn’t necessarily mean that she was wrong! It was a different way of seeing based on our personal histories. The authors summarize this process as “We have different information. We have different interpretations. Our conclusions reflect self-interest.” Yeah. That was true for me.

Their next suggestion is to “Move from Certainty to Curiosity.” I can actually feel a shift in my body with those words. Certainty feels rigid and closed, whereas curiosity feels like relaxing. A curious stance feels like the exploration that I want to have without the defenses I usually have to protect myself from what feels like an attack in a misunderstanding. What if I could come to see the world I inhabit as more of a “both/and” world rather than an “either/or”?

I’m staying interested in difficult conversations and will explore this more with the volunteers at the Listening Post in an upcoming meeting. Stay tuned.

Fixing and Editing Ourselves

The following is on a little sign I have posted in my guest bathroom mirror. I felt if I could pass on the gift of these words to my guests, it was better nourishment than what I was serving at my table for dinner. This excerpt is from the book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen. I re-read it often on this journey to know my truth.

A great deal of energy goes into the process of fixing and editing ourselves. We may have even come to admire in ourselves what is admired, expect what is expected, and value what is valued by others. We have changed ourselves into someone that the people who matter to us can love. Sometimes we no longer know what is true for us, in which direction our own integrity lies.

We surrender our wholeness for a variety of reasons. Among the most compelling are our ideas of what being a good person is all about…Few of us are able to love ourselves as we are. We may have even become ashamed of our wholeness. Parts of ourselves which we may have hidden all of our lives out of shame are often the source of healing…

Reclaiming ourselves usually means coming to recognize and accept that we have in us both sides of everything. We are capable of fear and courage, generosity and selfishness, vulnerability and strength. These things do not cancel each other out but offer us a full range of power and response to life.

Life is as complex as we are. Sometimes our vulnerability is our strength, our fear develops our courage, and woundedness is the road to our integrity. It is not an either/or world. In calling ourselves “heads” or “tails”, we may never own and spend our human currency, the pure gold of which our coin is made.”

Our deepest inner voice does not make us feel “less than.” Listen to its wisdom. Ignore all others.