a conversation with the dinosaur at chicago o’hare airport

me: wow.
dinosaur in chicago airport: hey.
me: i feel a little loopy. have a three hour layover here because i missed my flight yesterday…only got a few hours of sleep last night.
dino: what did you do? when you missed the flight?
me: first i was in denial, i thought i could make it against all the odds. then i got really angry, and i snapped on this airline worker.
dino: i see a lot of that.
me: i bet. i felt so good, using all the worst words i know as i stomped away. but then i was just standing there breathing and…gaining perspective.
dino: airports can be good for that. everyone is taking a huge risk together, going up in the air. life is on the line, do you want to fly in a funk?
me: you know i travel so much i don’t really consider that part. sometimes i tune into the magic part of it, like…woah i am in the sky! and i have started meditating on planes.
dino: but it’s just the way you get around. the business travelers, its like any other shuttle. the kids and newcomers still have wonder. travel enough and rage is possible.
me: yeah exactly. but no matter how angry i was, it wasn’t going to get me home. and i thought about how i had missed my flight – it wasn’t that worker’s fault. i made a series of flippant decisions and expected my usual travel magic to get me there.
dino: travel magic? explain this – i mostly stand here.
me: mostly?
dino: long story. travel magic?
me: kind of a series of events of irrational good luck. traffic opens up, i get randomly selected for tsa pre-check, the airport shuttle arrives right when i get to the door, or they had to hold the plane an extra minute for some reason. things just align and i make it.
dino: but not this time?
me: no. and not last time i flew home either. last time i got on the slow train, bumped my head, lost my water bottle.
dino: dang.
me: yeah it was so sad.
dino: what do you do, in lieu of magic?
me: you know….both times ended up being really magical in their own ways. the first time i went to the spa til my next flight. spa castle, highly recommend it.
dino shrugs
me: oh right. so yesterday, after i was angry with that worker, i dropped back into myself, my center, and realized it wasn’t her fault, she was just doing her job. so when i was rebooked i walked back over to her and i told her i was sorry for taking my anger out on her, that it was a bad moment.
dino: what did she say?
me: she said it happens all the time, just let it go. but she teared up, and i teared up. like, we were having a real human moment all of the sudden, not in the prescribed roles of travel power dynamics.
dino: what do you mean?
me: well it’s this weird thing – like in the moment of interaction there is this temporary power that the airline person has over my life and time, but in the long run, i get to leave and go on about my life, not tied to a desk with no windows, finding my zen with miserable people yelling at me when they miss their planes. there’s a balance in there somewhere.
dino: i think i get that. how did you feel after that?
me: light. emotional. like everything was ok.
dino: and was it?
me: well yes. i decided to go back and get more time with my nibblings.
dino: your what?
me: nibblings. the children of my sibling. nephews and nieces, but not gender determining.
dino: i like that.
me: i got it from my friend tanuja – actually she lives here in chicago! maybe you know her?
dino: maybe.

(we watch people for a little while)

me: are you always here?
dino: kind of. i don’t remember being somewhere else in my memories. but observing all of you, i get the feeling i belong to a different time place and sometimes i feel like i’m also there.
me: has anyone told you things about yourself?
dino: yes…but what do they know? i think its all theory, all they know for sure is these bones go together. kids roar at me, as if i can’t talk. they learn that from adults. and yet here i am, thinking, feeling.
me: you’re really quite thoughtful.
dino: thank you. one more question before you go?
me: shoot.
dino: why do you keep missing flights home?
me: good question.
dino: seems like something to understand.
me: this might not be it, but…last year my friend charity died. and then on oct 5 my friend and mentor grace died. they were both really big parts of my detroit experience…and i don’t quite know…like i know they are gone, and the city is so full of them, but it’s full of grief too. and life, moving too fast for my grief. but…when i travel? i feel like they are still there, and it’s just me who’s gone.
dino: i feel that sometimes!
me: say more?
dino: well part of me knows that everyone i ever knew and loved is gone. but sometimes i think i am just doing this thing, being the dinosaur that wows people at this airport. and that one day i will walk out of here, flesh and bone, and walk towards the tallest trees, and they will be there, just waiting for me.
me: does it make you sad?
dino: immensely. it’s sad to outlive your loved ones, whatever that looks like.
me: especially when it’s raining. (points at rain)
dino: well yes. actually this season might be the saddest season.
me: so much loss.
dino: it’s also the most beautiful, from my vantage point. transformation is the most colorful and alive looking season. i don’t know this for sure but i think it’s when we are the closest to each other, this side and that.
me: i like that.
dino: me too.
me: thanks for this talk dinosaur.
dino: thank you for stopping to talk with me. i hope you get home safely. and see your loved ones everywhere.
me: you too dino. you too.

sacred places and stardust

There are many sacred places along the journey through grief. One of the them is the body, but I’ll build to that.

Land is precious. Especially land full of trees in the fall, when everything is changing so beautifully. I’ve always loved fall most of all the seasons, the season of my birth and of new beginnings. For much of my life this was the time when I would be landing in a new place, new school, new community. As a child in a military family we often moved in summer, so fall would be a time of seeing who I was in a new place. How would this place and these people receive me, a precocious child who challenged authority, loved approval and wanted to create everything anew?

Land always received me well.

I remember landscapes – German forests, Georgia swamps, a low flat Kansas field between our backyards and the big gates behind which I later learned Leonard Peltier was imprisoned, the dried up riverbeds and magical desert lawns in Texas, the sparse trees held in concrete in Brooklyn, the dirty active water between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty, sky fetish beauty in every direction in the South Pacific, the white sands of Tulum, the lush green hills of rural Japan and the Big Island and Southern Africa. Changing conditions, diverse beauties – it is an outstanding planet. Each of these places are locations of my growth and places where I left part of myself behind, skin shed.

Lately I have been shedding self in a few places.

In Detroit I have been letting go of a certain urgency that permeates crisis, that can make everything feel very important. People ask me how I am responding to the crisis in Detroit, and I want to say: by loving it, very slowly, as it is. It isn’t easy. I am growing a capacity to see a longer arc of time in this city, these communities which are engaged in basic battles, that is, battles over the most basic human needs. I am growing a capacity to be visionary even when there appears to be no time for looking ahead.

In rural Minnesota my unborn little relative is now part of the land, the wind, the dirt, the birch stand and the pond, the trail through the woods, everywhere. I am growing my skill in grieving, my understanding of the importance of impermanence.

I am realizing the humility required to be stardust. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just the truth. We suffer, we die, we control only how much beauty and joy and laughter we can seek and let in. We are temporary, first and foremost.

This cosmic season has been all about grief and letting go. It feels like there is so much death and transition being pulled forward by these eclipsing or retrograde celestial bodies which don’t know our names but shape our lives. It’s terrifying to realize the insignificance of my impact, my pain, my grief, and my ability to protect those I love. This doesn’t mean don’t try, give, effort, extend. It just means I have to be less attached to everything, be of the world without clinging and grasping.

This is theoretical, right now my knuckles are pale with the grip I have on all the things I want to love forever.

It helps to look at the truth of what I can and can’t protect. I am concluding that I can’t protect anything except my dignity and my capacity to love. And that is a lot, that is worth fighting for, that is a life’s work, against all the odds and expectations and the strong arms of the moon and the playful fuckery of mercury.

What gets me through, always, is space. I meditate as if I am floating in space, the Milky Way somewhere far behind me. I remember that I am just one body of billions, hurtling through space on a body in orbit amongst a trillion gazillion other bodies, much larger, much smaller.

What is random is not personal, even the most beautiful and sacred experiences – it is the whole massive universe that is precious, not me specifically or especially. It is all of existence that is worth the attention of prayer and intention, not my singular and most likely myopic concern. That comforts me, being a fragment of a sacred existence.

Then I can pull all of that scale into my understanding of myself. I am stardust, the baby is stardust, Charity is stardust, Grace is stardust, Sheddy is stardust, Blair is stardust, Papa is stardust, Grandma Brown is stardust, and so on. This is my stardust litany.

What does it mean to be stardust? The sacred place I am longing for is right here, in this body so briefly available to me, accessible through pleasure, chanting, storytelling, healing, dancing and noticing this skin I am in. I am of the celestial whole. When I see my flesh and bones as a source of information, self-love and curiosity become inevitable.

Fragile bones and individual oceans, with memories of stardust spiraling through us – could we be more beautiful? More sacred? More capable of the grief and love required of the living?

Octavia taught us to pray working, to let our work be sacred practice. I am holding these words as my life work continues to challenge me completely, to feed my human curiosity in the face of human terror. I cannot know or understand it all. It hurts my heart, mind and body to pretend I know much of anything.

And, we are stardust. And, each one of us is the sacred place.