Falls (And Giveaway!)

May 28, 2012 § 15 Comments

Niagara Falls

I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn’t feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn’t feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too. – from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

I haven’t been here in a while. I haven’t been writing anything other than my bi-monthly column about chefs, mostly because of all the work that goes into moving to another state and trying to find a place to live given that it may be four weeks or four months until a home on the Camp Lejeune Marine base is ready for us. There is the packing of course, but there is also the getting rid of things, the collection of school and doctor and dentist records, the phone calls to turn off the power and the water, the endless calls to see if that home is still for rent, if that apartment is furnished, if we can sign a lease for fewer than three months. There is also the way the anxiety of moving turns my brain into static, and if I am honest, I have have been avoiding writing because of the way it forces me to face what is really going on.

At Oliver’s kindergarten drop-off, the other moms are very nice to me. “You look so great,” they say, “So relaxed,” and I laugh and lie and say, Thank you, it’s all going well.

This afternoon in yoga, while we held downward facing dog for what felt like way too long, Kelly, who was teaching, told us to press our thigh muscles onto our femur bones and I rebelled. I didn’t want to engage my legs, which is another way of saying I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be in the present moment which is always right here. I wanted to roll up my mat and flee. I wanted to bolt from the 98-degree room and into the 90-degree day outside. I wanted to disappear into the crowded streets of Georgetown. I wanted to run into the air-conditioned haven of Dean & Deluca, to look for a new pair of shorts in J.Crew, to climb fully-clothed into the claw foot bathtubs in Waterworks.

Last Thursday, Oliver and my mom and I made the day-long drive up to Grand Island, New York, which is about a mile away from Niagara Falls. My cousin Jeremy and his wife graciously hosted us and Oliver was able to visit with his cousins and his godmother – Sister Mary Judith – who married Scott and I almost seven years ago, near a rocky beach just south of San Francisco. Sister Mary Judith is my father’s cousin and is in her mid-seventies, but she looks much younger. Before she became a Catholic nun, she was Homecoming Queen, and to me, she still has a sense of royalty about her. On our trip last weekend, she told me stories about when she helped run a school for African-American children in South Carolina in the late 1950’s. She told me about the time she spent in Africa, prior to that, and about my grandparents and aunts and uncles, whose own parents came over from Ireland and landed in Queens and Buffalo, New York.

On Friday, Jeremy took the day off from work and took us all to Niagara Falls. I was surprised by how accessible Niagara Falls is with the free parking in the state park and the easy walk in, just a few blocks from downtown Buffalo. It was a beautiful, sparkling day with bright sun and a cool breeze and we walked down from the parking lot onto a wooded trail which hugged the river. The river was so calm and quiet that I would never have guessed that it was about to jump off a cliff. The kids played on the wide, flat rocks at the edge of the river and they ran over the foot bridges that led us out to Goat Island. There was a small piling up of whitewater as the wide river bubbled around the boulders and the bank and you could tell the water was running fast, but there was a stillness  at the surface that belied the drop up ahead.

Moving is kind of like that. You get word and then you wait, your life staying pretty much the same except for that static under the surface, which feels an awful lot like panic. The waiting itself becomes a kind of current, your life becoming flooded with the possibility that you are leaving it, until one day you look up and realize you are completely submerged in the leaving, so tired of the waiting that you just want it to be over already so your new life can start. According to some scholars, the name “Niagara” comes from the name of an Iroquois town called “Ongniaahra,” meaning “point of land cut in two.”

I used to think of surrender as a kind of ease. I used to think that I would be able to surrender once I was a different kind of person: once I meditated more or had more time, or became more wise. But standing there, looking at the falls, feeling the cold mist on my face and listening to the rush of that water, hearing the rush of my own blood through my ears, I thought that maybe surrender wasn’t a matter of ease but of courage. I watched that water, as it moved steadily, unhindered by what was in its path until finally, the Niagara River pulled its knees into its chest and leapt, the water gathering up and then falling from that sharp, dolomite ledge.

After we left the Falls we were hungry and tired and Sister Mary Judith and my mom and I headed to a grocery store to get some snacks for our return drive back to D.C. I told her my thoughts on surrender and she nodded. “Surrender is an act of courage,” she said, simply, and I rested in that, confident in her half-century of spiritual commitment.

This afternoon, as I held downward facing dog, while I was wishing I was anywhere but in my legs, Kelly said, “We think we can find ease by relaxing into something, but really, it’s the pushing out of something that creates the ease.” She told us to press our palms into the floor, to squeeze our thighs back to lift our hips and I thought of those falls – their height, their majesty, their courage. I took a deep breath and pressed down and back, feeling an ache in my legs and also a tiny bit of ease in my heart. I felt an infinitesimal opening as if maybe there was a place for me after all, despite the fact that I am a moving target, despite the fact that as soon as I begin to get comfortable, it’s time to press on and move out again. I pressed back into the pain and the cracking open and the fear and called those falls back to me, those daring wonders with their willingness to drop their history and their loves and their beliefs about where they should be, and instead, press onward and over the edge.

In honor of moving, I am having a month of giveaways. This week, I am giving away 2 copies of Bruce Dolin’s wonderful book, “Privilege of Parenting.” Kristen wrote such a wonderful review of the book that I won’t even try to duplicate her efforts and you can read her review of the book here. Bruce writes compassionately and wisely about how to hold our children by holding onto ourselves first, by breathing through our own fear and shame and sadness in order to put an end to the karma we don’t want our children to carry. Unlike some parenting books, which give generic and unlikely scenarios, Bruce helps us deal with life’s messiness, and like yoga, shows us that the messiness is part of the beauty. Just enter a comment below and I’ll draw a name at Random on Friday, June 1.


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§ 15 Responses to Falls (And Giveaway!)

  • Kathy says:

    My yoga teacher often reminds us to find that perfect balance between effort and ease. I tend to overdue the effort and never find the ease, but after four years of reminders from him (I guess I am a slow learner!), I am beginning to get it. Both yoga and life are about finding our edge and then stepping back just a bit so that we can enjoy the ride. Many blessings on your new adventure.

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  • Kelly says:

    Your posts are always so beautiful. What a wonderful book it sounds like you’re giving away, that message is one of the things I want to share with the world!

  • Holly Cotton says:

    Oh Pamela, you have no idea how much I needed this post. So beautiful and I love the images of the undercurrents and power of the water; the acknowledgement that “surrender is not a matter of ease, but of courage, and that ease is created perhaps by pushing out of something, as your teacher expressed.

    I know you are talking about your experience of moving in this blog, but your images were so empowering for me as I approach surgery tomorrow for early breast cancer. I love to write, but this has paralyzed my courage to be still enough with myself to hear my own thoughts and acknowledge my own fears.

    You have expressed so beautifully what I am feeling as I go over my own falls…”the river so calm and quiet that I would never have guessed it was about to jump over a cliff…you could tell the water was running fast, but there was a stillness beneath the surface…you get the word and then you wait, your life staying pretty much the same except for the static under the surface,which feels an awful lot like pain. The waiting itself becomes kind of a current…until one day you look up and realize your are completely submerged in the leaving, so tired of waiting that you just want it to be over with so you new life can start…I used to think of surrender as a kind of ease…that I would be able to surrender once I was a different kind of person;once I meditated more or had more time, or became more wise…but I thought that maybe surrender wasn’t a matter of ease but of courage. I watched the water as it moved steadily, unhindered by what was in its path until finally, the Niagara River pulled its knees into its chest and leapt.”

    After all the doctors interviews, after talking to so many women about their journeys, after all the decisions I have had to make without certainty that they are the right ones, it is time too, for me to leap.

    Thank you again-this really helps me. I hope it is ok to put an excerpt from this entry on my page with the link to your blog, so that my family and friends know I am at ease with my journey down the falls.

    Take care, Holly

  • Debbie says:

    This was so lovely and very powerful. The ease that comes when we can let go of the resistance and holding on does take courage…but also faith. Faith that we will survive, that no matter how things turn out, it will all be for the better.

    I remember when I was on my mat (as a teacher and a student) and resisting downward dog in the same way…how much more work it took to resist the full pose instead of just pushing my palms into my mat, letting my shoulder blades slip down my back, lifting my hips up and back as I sunk my heels towards the ground – all that effort was easier than attempting to hold myself in – instead of reaching myself out.

    And oh how I’d love a copy of Bruce’s book. Fingers crossed. Thanks for the opportunity. xo

  • Wolf Pascoe says:

    Once I stood on Goat Island and looked across the top of the falls and thought, how shallow the river! How it moves almost in slow motion! What an easy walk through the stream to the other side! But there was, I suppose, all that static beneath the surface to worry about . . .

  • Mary Ann says:

    Glad you’re back. The Falls are wonderful.

  • mb says:

    oh my. i love your writing pamela. i grew up in upstate ny so your imagery on this post is particularly hitting, literally, home for me. and the stuff on surrender i have thought long and hard about. and i would agree with you that surrender is not equal to ease. it is a concept that for me, has been like water slipping through my hands. difficult to grasp. i like your way of articulating it here. i got chills on the last line.

    the book sounds awesome, i will look for it even if i don’t win one! 🙂

  • I would love to put an end to the karma I don’t want my children to carry. Funny though, I know my mother worked very very hard at this, so as much as I have, I know there is less because of her work.

    That “static under the surface” can be a killer.

    I think they should open a navy base in Minneapolis…….

    I’ve been gone too. I hope we can reconnect soon.

    • Pamela says:

      MK, you won the book! I will email you for your address and we’ll send it off! xoxo

      • Oh Yeah!!!! My first internet/blog prize! Thank you. I have been way unconnected, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But now I feel disconnected here. I hope you are staying sane with your move.

  • Brenda Haris says:

    As always I love reading your messages. I also loved the other book you sent. Would love this one too! 🙂

  • Pamela this is so beautiful.

    I especially love this: maybe surrender wasn’t a matter of ease but of courage.

    For some of us, that couldn’t be more true.

    (And by the way, I have Bruce’s wonderful book. So much wisdom in it!)

  • Oh. OhOhOhOhOh. Pamela, thank you. As you know, I understand moving. You describe the process and the just-below-the-surface emotion so vividly and perfectly. The parallels to Niagara Falls are exquisite. Surrender takes courage. Yes, oh my yes. xoxo

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