Bags

It is exhausting work putting a person’s life into bags, especially if it is someone close to you.

In the last 20 months, there has been much transition. Holding my mom’s hand as she transitioned over, holding the life of my baby in my body as she transitioned over…holding her in my hands and singing to her until she was no longer warm, holding a friend’s hand as she decided to die, holding the hands of another as they decided to live, really live, and move past life long obstacles.

As a healer, I have had the honor of standing at that bridge between life and death. But sometimes as the healer, it can be excruciating to stand at this crossroads, recognizing that being the bridge for those closest to you also requires a hand for oneself, some type of anchor or bridge to stay and live your own life. In the practice of metta, I have had to recognize that sending loving kindness to myself has been the most difficult part. In the practice of yoga and meditation, I have had a sustaining anchor, but without community, it has felt impossible at times to remember what is important.

I bagged more of my mother’s clothes today, not all of them, only about half. I spent the day, going through each piece, literally hundreds of jackets, blouses and pants. To say my mother was a clothes horse is not an understatement. Growing up in the middle of a war occupation, watching much of her family and homes blown up, literally, there was much she never was able to sit with or attend to “within” in her inner life. Shopping was her therapy. And as a child that grew up under the far reaching tentacles of war trauma, I can honestly say that it made me very sensitive to suffering. It led me to work in the inner city and with Vietnam war veterans, and it led me to decades of self help study.

She saved everything. Today I found doll clothes from my favorite doll, my brother’s torn up “raggedy andy”, baby clothes, all stuffed between designer label clothes, some with price tags still on them. There are still reams upon reams of cloth to go through, she was an avid seamstress. I have many memories of sitting at her feet under her sewing cabinet, the hum of the sewing machine overhead and her muttering about something not done correctly.

When she had a stroke 5 years ago, she made herself busy and learned to regain some functional use of her right hand by folding all the bags from her shopping expeditions. I found a large bag today filled with bright blue carefully folded Nordstrom bags. I remember being really irritated about this bag of bags and told her so. Her response, “you never know when you need a plastic bag.” Today I used those bags, filling up bag after bag with sweaters, silk blouses and wool pants.

I drove them to the “A Wider Circle”, my favorite nonprofit. Their mission is to help families lift themselves out of poverty through providing basic goods and services. They work mostly in the area of the inner city most violent, a section within Anacostia where I used to work at the local hospital as a physical therapist.

As I piled the blue bags on the black top, one of the volunteers, Ted (not his real name), came out. He said, “Heh Rita, how are you today?” After being calm and centered all day, I burst into tears. I just couldn’t help myself. “These clothes are my mother’s and I don’t want to give them to you. I am sorry. This is hard. Really hard.” He said, “Yes, you know you are bringing them to the right place?” I said, “you know I do. And I am grateful to give them to you as is my father. But to see the remnants of my mother in small blue bags…” Two other volunteers came, they stood and waited. I found my breath, the universe slowed down, everything became still. I felt calmness again and said, “thank you” and handed them bag after bag, at the last minute pulling a sweater out that still had her smell, somewhere in there her touch.

I pulled over in a park on the way home. I looked at the trees waving in the sky, felt the soft breeze on my skin, took in the May flowers arching their necks toward the sun, life in all its vitality reaching forward to take my hand. It eases the sadness of my mom not being here, it eases the sorrow in my heart at the baby Isabella who I see in every baby that goes by, and the longing for friends who have chosen not to be here with me. Nature reminds me that despite these losses, there is much to breathe in and see. Much that is still here, my son, the vitality of my body, the amazing things to learn every day and those in my life that love and care for me. There is much I am still here to do, much I am still here to teach, and many many more breaths to take in and marvel at this incredible world we live in.

There is not much to understand here, only that with all the sorrow in this world and transition, there is also much wonder. And soon I will see that again. If anything through the faces of those I hold dear near and far.

May all be well, may all be happy, may all be at peace.

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