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Archive for the ‘loss’ Category

For my son

Nehemiah Owen McKinsey
Born January 7, 1978
Died May 11, 2009

It is only because of our misunderstanding that we think the person we love no longer exists after they “pass away.”  This is because we are attached to one of the forms, one of the many manifestations of that person. The person we love is still there. He is around us, within us, and smiling at us.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide and seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave goodbye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We will always be meeting again at the true source, always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.
~~~~~~ Sutra “Given to the Dying” from the Anguttara Nikaya

And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
~~~~~~T.S. Eliot

Just as a mother would protect with her life her own son, her only son, so one should cultivate an unbounded mind towards all beings and loving kindness towards all the world.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh 

I am not a bit tamed….I am untranslatable
I depart as air….I shake my locks at the runaway sun.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

~~~~~~~~~Walt Whitman

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Hiatus

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nehemiahgrave

In May of 2009 I wrote:

This blog will be at a standstill while I deal with the painful reality of the death of my son. Please donate to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary or Miranda’s Rescue in lieu of flowers or other expressions of sympathy.

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The final reading

My mother sent this piece of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” for me to read at Nehemiah’s funeral.  I read it last, after the other readings.

I am not a bit tamed….I am untranslatable
I depart as air….I shake my locks at the runaway sun.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

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For my son, from the archives

Nehemiah Owen McKinsey

Born January 7, 1978
Died May 11, 2009

It is only because of our misunderstanding that we think the person we love no longer exists after they “pass away.” This is because we are attached to one of the forms, one of the many manifestations of that person. The person we love is still there. He is around us, within us, and smiling at us.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide and seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave goodbye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We will always be meeting again at the true source, always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.
~~~~~~ Sutra “Given to the Dying” from the Anguttara Nikaya

And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
~~~~~~T.S. Eliot

Just as a mother would protect with her life her own son, her only son, so one should cultivate an unbounded mind towards all beings and loving kindness towards all the world.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh

I am not a bit tamed….I am untranslatable
I depart as air….I shake my locks at the runaway sun.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
~~~~~~~~~~~Walt Whitman

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Missing my dog today

I’ve been in a down mood all day.  Couldn’t really figure out why. Then I walked past my computer when a picture of Tripod came up on the random picture screensaver. I teared up and it dawned on me that I have been playing his music all day. Then there was a knock on the door and it was UPS delivering the frame for one of Tripod’s portraits. I suddenly realized that the universe has designated this a Tripod day. So be it. Here he is.

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Emotional trauma

As I have been writing out my walkabout story the last few days, I’ve been reminded of what a friend said when I was recounting the traumatic story of my New Orleans road trip. He said to be careful about too much retelling of traumatic experiences, as it can re-traumatize you in the telling. This morning when Steve got up right after I finished chapter two of my tale, I had to remind myself that I was not mad at him, that I was revisiting anger from almost a year ago. Just a little warning to myself not to water old anger seeds. I also realized this morning that one of my traumatic “death” anniversaries is coming up fast. October 9th is forever a day of mourning for me, the day that my beloved Tripod died. And that reminded me that my son’s birthday comes up the first week of January, and I’m already dreading it. It will be the first big “trigger” day I face since my son died. The holidays aren’t too traumatic that way because we didn’t spend many of them together over the years.

All of these trauma dates are why I scheduled another walkabout this year. I need a way to spiritually fortify myself for the coming year. I have been feeling rather lost and ungrounded lately, spinning my wheels in limbo land.

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What I did on the first 9-11

I used to run summer geology field trips when I was a grad student. One September morning I was frantically running around my house, gathering the last few things I needed for our big Mount St. Helens field trip. Then the phone rang. It was my colleague. He said, “Turn on the TV.” I ran to the television and turned it on. It was filled with images of smoking buildings and screaming people. OMG. What the hell? I was still holding the phone. My friend was saying, “What should we do? Should we cancel?” Just then, the second tower fell as I watched the TV screen. I staggered backward and ran out of the room, still clutching the phone. “I don’t know! I don’t know! What should we do?!” I realized I was yelling and deliberately tried to calm myself.

My friend/colleague said that he was at school with the vans, and that most of the students were already there. He said they were in various states of shock, but that the consensus was to go on the trip. He said that one of our students was a fireman and that he was canceling because of fireman friends who had been in the towers, but that everybody else seemed to think that running off into the woods was the right thing to do. We were in Oregon. The chaos was in New York. Nobody on the trip had anybody in danger back east or on planes. So we decided to go. We were all glad we did. Those first few images I saw on the TV were the last I saw for the next year. By the time we returned from the trip, that compulsive need to watch the towers fall over and over had passed.

The drive north was rather subdued, but everyone was looking forward to seeing the mountain. We camped the first night at a gorgeous group campsite that raised spirits. We decompressed around dinner and the campfire, and then people began noticing the absence of planes in the night sky. It was surreal to see the sky empty of planes, and everybody stared up until bedtime.

In the morning we went straight to the visitor center and looked at all of the exhibits. We watched the movie about Mount St. Helens’ big eruption in 1980, and then we gathered to go for a hike out by the pumice plain. Some people wanted to go all the way across the plain, some wanted to go to Spirit Lake, and others just wanted a shorter walk to see the scoured landscape  from viewpoints. We stayed together for the first hour, with my colleague and myself pointing out landmarks and geologic features. Then everybody split up to do their hiking variations. I stayed on the visitor center side of the plain to count heads as people returned.

After everybody was back and accounted for, we gathered at an overlook and talked about what we had seen, and about the eruption. Then we headed back to camp for food and beer and stargazing.

The next day we drove to the south side of Mount St. Helens in preparation for climbing the mountain the following morning. We picked up our permits and found some campsites at the trailhead climbing camp. Everybody was very excited about the climb the next day, and even though we had to get up before dawn for the long climb, we all stayed up around the campfire.

The next morning in the pre-dawn, I made coffee and breakfast, and put out the lunch makings. As soon as it was light enough to see the trail, we headed out. Four and a half miles and 4500 feet of relief. It started out easy, with a nice woodland trail for the first two miles. Then we got to the giant lava flows. They were very difficult to hike on, with multiple “trails” that were slow going over sharp rocks. One student pulled a ligament on the lava section and had to turn back. My colleague was wearing a knee brace. I had a new case of plantar fasciitis and a lightly sprained ankle. Another student had very bad knees. We struggled up the mountain. I stayed with the student who had bad knees. She desperately wanted to go all the way to the top, but by the time we got through the lava she was in serious pain. She made it a short way into the pumice dunes that covered the last section of the climb, but she decided that she had enough and sat down to wait for me to return. She knew it would be brutal to climb back down over the lava, and she didn’t want to injure herself with nobody around.

I continued up through the pumice dunes with a couple of the students. Some had already gone ahead, and a couple of people, my knee-braced colleague included, were behind us. Think about trying to walk through huge sand dunes, uphill, and that’s what the pumice dunes were like. We finally got to the top and threw ourselves on the ground to catch our breath before looking at the view.

We were right at the edge of the crater. We could see all of the layers of the volcano exposed on the inside. We could see the lava dome and a small glacier. We could see Spirit Lake in the distance. We could also see several other Cascade volcanoes, including Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. The view was breathtaking. We took pictures and talked about the volcano for a while, hoping that my colleague would arrive in time to give a talk. But the first group of students at the top were tired and getting chilled, so I decided to let them head on down the long return trip.

When my colleague finally arrived, he was a little miffed that everybody hadn’t stayed for the talk, but I told him that some people had been up there for a couple of hours and were out of food and water. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. The remaining people enjoyed the talk, because my colleague was an excellent lecturer. Then we all headed back down. Going down the pumice was easy and fun, like running down dunes. But the lava was just as hard as the way up, and we were much more tired. I stayed with the student who had waited there for me, and reminded everybody to be very careful on the lava. We eventually got back down to the forested trail and limped into camp, tired but happy.

I fixed a quick meal, and everybody gathered around the campfire for their final night. The trip had been so exciting that people had managed to put the twin towers out of their minds for hours at a time. I know that from my own perspective, that kept me from being as traumatized by the disaster as those who sat around their televisions for the days afterward, watching and rewatching the horrible scene. By the time we got home, the 24 hour coverage of the attack had waned a bit, allowing us all to take it in more slowly. The trip taught me that running off into the woods can be the right thing to do sometimes.

Helens

Mount St. Helens from the north.

overlook

View from the overlook near the visitor center, north side of the mountain.

pumiceplain

The pumice plain.

spiritlake

Spirit Lake from the overlook.

students

Some students on the forested part of the climb the next day.

view

A view from somewhere on the trail.

inside

The pumice almost at the top of the climb.

top

At the crater’s edge.

helensmama

Me on the mountain.

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