Aubrey Harmon

Centered Heart Coaching

Longing for Light

First fire of the season

Every year around this time, the days feel too short, the nights too long. Especially in Fairfax, we are surrounded by hills and the sun disappears even earlier than sunset. It’s been raining for days – much needed after our long dry season, but it contributes to the feeling of endless dark. Tonight I lit a fire for the first time this winter – warmth, light, comfort.

Into the Unknown

Late yesterday afternoon, as I was taking a study break and playing Overwatch, my phone rang. It was my dad. I was in the middle of a match and I decided to finish before calling back. I figured he was calling to say he hadn’t gotten his internet password yet so we wouldn’t be able to FaceTime. Not unexpected – I’d sent him the iPad weeks ago as a way for Tai and Miriam to get to know him better but he didn’t remember the password to his internet. He lives in the dark ages – no computer, no cell phone. In a break between rounds, I listened to the voice mail “Hey, its Dad. Call me when you get a chance.” I knew it wasn’t about the internet. I called him back.

He asked if I’d talked to Quin yet. I think he was hoping my brother had already shared the news. But I hadn’t. Apparently Dad had been in the hospital again and this time he’d sworn my step-mom to secrecy so she didn’t call my brother or I. And he’d gotten some bad health news. He was clearly shaken, not his usual self. I took notes to consult Dr. Google after we hung up. Then I called Quin. We hashed it over – tried to figure out what the real story is – ‘Harmon men’ have a bad habit of sugar-coating stuff so as ‘not to worry you’ but that means you don’t understand the gravity of the situation until it’s too late.

Quin wants Dad to move out here from Michigan. He is going to need to move anyway – somewhere with a single level, no yard to take care of. Quin wants to put a small place in his back yard for Dad and Roseanna, and we can help them as needed. In Quin’s eyes, it’s what families do, come together when someone needs help. Shore each other up. On the one hand, I agree. While our Uncle lives in Michigan too, he’s in his 80s – and he and Dad have a sometimes-fraught relationship. Neither Quin nor I have seen much of Dad in the last… many years. Dad doesn’t travel, and flying to Michigan with kids isn’t cheap. I went back a year and a half ago, spent a weekend with Dad and Roseanna and it was the first time they had met Miriam. They hadn’t seen Tai since he was two. Dad hasn’t met any of Quin’s kids, or his wife. Having Dad here would alleviate the guilt.

But there are other reasons I haven’t been close to my Dad. Boundaries were crossed when I was a teen, and that was just the final straw to a endlessly complicated relationship. In the intervening years we have made some efforts at amends, and though our relationship is stilted – we both want healing. I’m learning to accept that he is who he is, flaws and all. Learning to parent the little girl in me myself, because while she still lives in my heart, I’m an adult.

So there’s a question – would having Dad live here be healthy for me, and my kids? It may be a moot question, Dad may never agree to leave Michigan. If he doesn’t… what do I do then? How do I negotiate our changing relationship as his health wanes? Maybe that’s the real question, no matter where he chooses to be. And maybe I won’t know the answer until I live into it.

Dad and me

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It’s you I like
The way you are right now
The way down deep inside you…

Fred Rogers “It’s you I like”

Instead of firing up the Xbox for several million rounds of Overwatch after the kids went to sleep tonight, I decided to finally watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. I’m not too proud to admit that I cried through most of it. I loved Mr. Rogers Neighborhood when I was growing up. The Neighborhood of Make-Believe was my favorite part of every episode, somehow it honored imagination, storytelling – which was always important to me.

But what struck me tonight – even more than Mr. Rogers’ connection to Daniel Tiger and the alter-egos that his puppets could represent – was the way “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was his ministry in the world. I’d heard that he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but I didn’t understand what that meant until I watched this. And as a fellow seminarian, trying to work through what my ministry will be, I was inspired. Ministry doesn’t have to be the obvious, preaching from a pulpit, it can be something more. As Rev. Wirth said in the film, “it wasn’t a sermon, like an oratorical thing, it was a communication right into their hearts.”

Max King said, “His Christianity was a wide-open Christianity that was accepting thinking from all other places, while never departing from the Christian faith. His theology – love your neighbor and love yourself. He saw that communication as the most deeply spiritual thing he could be doing.” I am not Christian – but I resonate deeply with his theology.

Love your neighbor, and love yourself. It feels so simple, but in practice it’s not easy at all. How do we love the neighbors on NextDoor who criticize our generators and fires in our fireplaces and our dogs barking at squirrels? How do we love the neighbor who cuts us off on the highway? Which is not even touching the more complicated neighbors who hold beliefs we find abhorrent? The neighbors who find us abhorrent for who we are or who we love?

Loving ourselves – also easy to say and yet much more difficult to do. Here we are smack in the middle of The Holidays – that space in between Thanksgiving (in the US) and Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, and the New Year – and we are full of self-criticism. We judge ourselves for how we eat, how we decorate (and when), for the perfect memories we make for our kids or the lack there-of, for the gifts we buy or don’t, the relatives we visit or don’t… have we accomplished enough in the old year? And have we made resolutions for the new?

I feel my own ministry calling to echo that of Mr. Rogers. How to communicate the message “love your neighbor”, “love yourself”… how to share the deep kindness that Mr. Rogers shared? Our world is so in need.

Where is God in this?

Light in the leaves

In the past month, things have been challenging for my family. A pain that began years ago resurfaced again, on its way to resolution. Even with all I learned in my training as a grief counselor, I thought that because I had healed in the intervening years, this new development would be relatively easy. I’m sure no one is surprised that it was not so.

I was discussing it with my adviser at seminary, and in the conversation I wondered aloud – where is God in this? I surprised myself with the question.

But I also sat with it. While the kids were out of town last week, I began to craft my answer.

God is in the comfort I find, sometimes. In the moments of peace. In the understanding that there is still an ‘okay’ in the world and that one day I will feel the okay again. God is in the music when I close my eyes and let go. God is in the candle point of light in the dark. God is in the understanding that I am not alone in my pain – I am not the only one who hurts, has lost, sorrows. God is in the understanding that all of it is part of being alive, part of being human in the world, even when it is horrible and we don’t understand. God is in the spots of beauty we can find. The leaves changing color. The fruit ripening on the trees. The rain after a long dry season.

At the bottom of everything is an okay. As Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” This is what I hold to – it is God that is the Well, and in that Wellness I can rest.

Ready Player One

Ready for Battle

Somehow I always forget during Holidailies – finish the entry earlier in the day. Yes, the evening seems like a perfect time. Quiet and calm (at least after the kids fall asleep), and with a whole day of events from which to choose a topic. The problem is, I always get sidetracked. Tonight I thought, oh I’ll just play a couple of matches of an Xbox game. And then my brother joined me. Suddenly it was 11:30pm and there was nary a journal entry in sight. (To make matters worse, our teams kept losing – we ended on a win, but it might have been our only one of the night.) But before I start chastising myself, I remember – I am unwinding (mostly, except for the tense matches) and since my brother and I both have mics, we can talk and laugh while we play. 

A little over a year ago I decided to quit drinking. Even though I didn’t drink around the kids, when they were with their dad I found myself drinking more than I should on more nights than was healthy. I was checking out too frequently. Quitting was hard, but it has been good for me. I’m more in touch with my creativity and I’m clearer in the mornings.

Without the easy out of alcohol, I’ve had to find other ways of unwinding. I knit, I watch TV, I color, I write… and in the past little while I play video games. It started as a way to bond with Tai. But then I discovered that I enjoy it myself. I’m not great – but it doesn’t matter. It’s become a way for me, Tai, my brother, and my nephews to bond. The other night my brother said, “If anyone told me my sister would be a gamer I’d never have believed them.” Me either. But I guess I am a gamer.

Coming Together

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.

Eugene Ionesco

I heard this quote last week, when I was watching Criminal Minds and trying to avoid thinking about any of the more complicated things going on in my life and it rang in my heart like a bell. Both pieces feel so resonant, both in my smaller world and the larger.

I want to begin by saying that this is not an anti-politics post. Here in the US, we are at a point in time where we can’t afford to look the other way and assume that it will all turn out right in the end. (Maybe this has always been true, but it feels particularly urgent.) Right now everywhere we turn it feels like we are being divided. Even among people who generally agree, there is a whiff of ‘if you aren’t outraged about the right things and taking action in the right way you are a horrible person’. An ‘if you aren’t with us you are against us.’ And the problems that face us as a country, and as a world, are bigger than can be confronted by splintered factions. It is easy to separate, to divide. It is easy to break things into binary – good and evil, black and white. But I don’t believe there are many things that truly fit into that dichotomy.

I’ve wondered, what will bring us together in these divided times – then here is an answer. Dreams and anguish – two things that all people have, that I would argue are integral to the human experience. 

Anguish – loss and grief and pain, physical, emotional and spiritual. Even though it feels like it when we are at the depths, we are never alone in anguish. We have all experienced it, we will all experience it again. Like the Buddhist parable of the mustard seed – 

A young woman’s son, just barely old enough to walk, dies. Distraught, she searches out doctors who might revive him but they all laugh. Finally a man suggests she go see the Buddha.

He says yes, he can help her. All she needs is a mustard seed from a nearby village. In India, this is a common spice and she is elated. “But,” the Buddha tells her, “you must get the seed from a house that has not known death.”

Of course, she does not find such a house, but she does find story after story of grief and her sense of aloneness begins to fade.

Dreams – the things that give us hope, keep us going when all else feels lost. Art and beauty and passion. When we share our dreams, we can share our hope, lighting candles in the long nights of winter.

* Note: This is one of those quotes that I can’t prove was actually said by the person quoted (wikiquote  claims it comes from a book of quotations, so it could be one of those that get attributed to someone, but may not be correct.

In Love with Words

I have been in love with words all of my life. When I was in elementary school I got in trouble for holding my book under my desk and reading when I was supposed to be learning other subjects. I majored in English Lit in college. I have written dozens of journals, a handful of bad and middling novels, a couple of short stories. But poetry had eluded me. Of course I had an angsty teenage phase where I wrote some truly terrible poems, but I very rarely read it, unless it was assigned for a class. It felt obscure, the meaning hidden by a screen of white space. There just weren’t enough words. (I am, perhaps obviously, a wordy person and have tended to novels – both reading and writing – over short stories and novellas.)

When I came across the Mary Oliver poem I shared, though, I was struck. She spoke of feelings I had experienced, with a clarity and preciseness that left the words lingering in my heart long after I read it. “When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. … I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

I felt that particular rising in my heart, a vibration as the words resonated. Yes – so many years I had let go by ‘simply visiting’ the world. While I was doing what I was *supposed* to do – the good grades, the fine job, the husband, the house, the dogs, the kids. But there was something missing. When I wasn’t working, or taking care of the kids I was watching too much TV, drinking too much wine. Checked out. My soul was desert soil, cracked and parched.

“I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” This was what I needed to find in myself. It took work to access, beneath everything I had piled on top. In this space of possibility, I began to play – first with coloring books and colored pencils and pens. I went on nature walks with my phone and took pictures of the beauty I found. I picked up yarn and knitting needles I had bought ages ago and never learned to use, and taught myself to knit with YouTube videos. Then I took a breath and bought a canvas, paint brushes and began to reacquaint myself with paint. When I was a kid I loved watercolor. I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Instead I decided that because I would never be Picasso or Monet there would be no way I could be an artist, so I stopped painting all together. Stopped by ‘not-good-enough’, I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I began to play again.

In all of these ways, color began to seep into my life. My soul soaked in the joy of creation. Writing is still my true love and I make time to connect to it regularly. But when the Inner Critics are too loud or I’m stuck on a particular scene, or simply for the joy of it, I go to the coloring book, the canvas, the knitting needles. And create.

For those about to write

When Death Comes

Dance

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver

Closure

2018 is winding down – only 26 more days of the year. It’s two of the darkest weeks as we move toward the winter Solstice with its shortest day and longest night. The moon is also in its waning crescent phase, leading to the New Moon on the 7th. On a macro-level it’s time to wind down, to let go of the old in order to welcome the new, so it’s oddly fitting that today – after a lengthy four and a half year separation – Tom and I signed our divorce papers.

While our relationship was clearly over at the time we separated, it took us much longer to get the legal side of things completed. The papers will be submitted to the court later this week, and though we won’t get a response for several weeks, once the documents are signed by both of us, the contract is considered binding.

Our mediator didn’t have any openings in her schedule in the North Bay office, so I trekked into San Francisco this afternoon. I don’t go into the city very often now that I’ve moved, and it’s even rarer for me to go to the heart of down town – Union Square. There was traffic, of course, and construction, and so many people shopping for the holiday season. Everything felt grey – concrete, sky, buildings, even the people. 

Tom and I sat across from each other at a conference table much too large for just us. We mostly signed in silence, except for a few awkward jokes. 

“You are sober, right,” I asked as we initialed the declaration that we weren’t under the influence of any mind-altering substance during the signing. 

“Yeah, but I’m getting a beer after,” he said.

The paralegal commented that it was always interesting to hear what people did after the papers were signed. Some went for drinks. Some went home. One client had to rush out because they had a dentist appointment directly after. Sounds like a glutton for punishment, to me.

At one point I realized he and I were in mirrored positions – head on fist, looking down. I don’t know what he was thinking… part of me wondered if his line of thought mirrored mine too  – this wasn’t where I imagined we’d end up, when we got married. I thought we’d be in it forever. I certainly never imagined that I’d be the one who ended it. I couldn’t imagine living without him.  But I had, and here we are.

I came home right after – today was my day with the kiddos.  I made dinner, gave Miriam a shower, made sure Tai practiced his trombone, fed the dogs.  I lit a candle. Now it’s nearly midnight and while I feel a little melancholy for ‘what might have been’ and ‘what I imagined it would be’, I know that I am content. I am fine. I am growing.

Denial

This morning I went to my favorite women’s recovery meeting. It’s a decent sized group – not so big that I feel lost, but also not so tiny that I feel like I have to speak up every time I go. There are women with long sobriety, and also newcomers. It might not have the same edginess and drama as meetings I used to attend in San Francisco, but it shares the same element that drew me in the first place – no matter how I am feeling, there is at least one other woman in the room who has felt that way, too.

For most of my life, I’ve felt different. Too shy, too anxious, too bookish, too awkward. I wanted to fit in, but I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t start drinking to fit in, but when I drank I felt like I did – or at least I didn’t care that I was different. For a while, alcohol worked for me. It worked really, really well. Until it didn’t.

Even so, 90 days sober, there have been many times that I’ve doubted that I’m an ‘alcoholic’.  I’ve had consequences of my drinking, but they all could have been worse. I’ve not lost a job, a house, a relationship, family members. Did I really need to be in recovery?

Today one sentence in the reading stood out to me.  When I enjoyed my drinking I couldn’t control it, and when I controlled it, I couldn’t enjoy it.  A small voice in my heart said ‘yes, this is you.’

Sometimes I drank normally, socially. A beer or two or three with family or friends at dinner. A civilized glass of wine after a hard day. But when I drank the way I felt I needed, I drank to feel the ‘click’ in my head where everything turned way, way down. The anxious voice in my head? Silent. The feeling that there was something ‘else’ I should be doing? Gone. Restless, discontent, lonely? Not anymore!

It took more and more to get the ‘click’. I was careful not to drink when I had the kiddos, because sometimes the click lead to blackouts. No problem if I’m on my own, but if the kids needed help in the night I had to be available for them. On nights the kids were with their dad, all bets were off. It took a little while to realize, this wasn’t actually working. In the morning all of those crappy feelings were still there, along with some guilt and shame for drinking so much, what I might have done while I was drinking, and an ass-kicking headache too.

Sobriety is a journey and I’m just at the beginning. I’m not making forever statements, but for today, I am not drinking. I’m learning about feeling my feelings and doing things anyway. Learning that we all feel anxious and awkward and weird and that’s fine – just keep moving, keep following our hearts. I’m working on building a community of women who can see me in all of my weirdness and join me with their weirdness. We’re all in this weird world together.

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