Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Four

Desert Rain

3:48am – Desert Rain

As I was taking a nap in the afternoon yesterday it rained! The joyful sound of it woke me up. Inside my room it sounded like someone randomly hitting notes on a collection of pots and pie pans.

We had a group meditation directly after that and it was lovely. The sound of the rain on the meditation hall, the rumblings of the thunder and the cooing of the mourning doves taking shelter under the eaves of the meditation hall, all the while trying to find the nose on my face in my mind so I could observe the respiration through my nostrils.

Dream – Meta Goenka-ism

I woke myself up with my own snoring this morning. I was having a dream that Goenka was telling me about tax write offs for householders who practice Vipassana through the Triple Gem law. This is a very funny joke, but only if you are at a Goenka Vipassana Center doing a 10 day course.

Note on the mind’s workings: Noble Silence allows one the opportunity to completely project entire personalities onto other people without having to be bothered with any working knowledge of who they are by how they present themselves in words. It makes me laugh how I already picked out a love object, an enemy, a few kind helper types, etc.

I realize the only men I’ve seen on this retreat have been fleeting glimpses from far away. I’ve looked at the male teacher and the male manager, who is a young, dishy Thai guy. Other than that, my strict adherence to Noble Silence has been impressive as it concerns the men.

The women I watch, but I am careful not to interact and I avert my eyes. Sometimes we hold doors open for one another, one time I got someone a spoon when I realized she couldn’t reach, but I did it covertly as if I was just moving a soup spoon into the teaspoon bin.

Morning gong is being sounded. It sounds so lovely. Even though I’m writing, which is verboten, I’m not regretting it, having my own room lets me keep my secret. I remember sneaking out into the desert and the woods to scribble a note on a scrap of paper at other retreats, an idea I didn’t want to forget, or an insight I wanted to flesh out in my writing later.

I need a shower, but won’t have time before the first sitting. I didn’t take one yesterday because the one I took the day before was so disappointing. The shower is so low flow that it’s like trying to soap up while someone is spitting on you. The water almost evaporates before it gets to your nether regions. Frustrating to one who makes a well-cleaned crotch a priority.

7:14am – Worst. Oatmeal. Ever.

Entirely my own fault. How do you screw up oatmeal? Probably the same way you burn broccoli.

P.S. – A1 does not have A1 breath. Sitting next to her this morning knocked me back.

11:49am – Lunch looked great, it was Thai curry, but I was all about the salad again. My stomach is okay today. No wheat or dairy, but there were amazing vegan spring rolls like they serve at Hugo’s.  They might have had tofu in them, but I didn’t care.  I wolfed them down so fast, I forgot to add the sauce. I also didn’t read the sign that said, “Please only take two” and I took three. I got checked with a look by a Thai lady. It may have been the one I call Outbreak Patient Zero, but I didn’t glance her way even though her message came through loud and clear.  Noble Silence, indeed!

There’s a thing that’s started happening at lunch that I totally dig. A handful of us eat lunch at the table outside when it’s not too hot / not too cold and then we all move our chairs away from the table, kick back with tea, and just sit there looking at the view. I call us the “Desert Appreciators Club”.

The vistas here are awe inspiring, and the clouds that roll in put on a new show every day. I never thought I’d say I love the desert because I’ve always just thought of it as hot and dry with nothing to look at, but this trip has convinced me otherwise. There’s this wild beauty about the desert here that I’d never seen before. The only disappointment is that unlike the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, which is where I did my last one before they built this place, there are no actual Joshua trees here. I saw them along the way, but there aren’t any at this particular location.

Going back to food for a moment, I’m going to try and eat raw vegan as much as possible here if I can. I’m not drinking anything with caffeine in it, no Thai tea for me yesterday, or was it coffee?, I didn’t even look. No wheat or dairy, and I haven’t taken any IBU today, so all is well. I want the list of supplements Rev. MBB told us he would give to Rev. Cheryl. He takes systemic enzymes and I think those would really help me. I saw them at the bookstore, but didn’t have my glasses on to read the label. They were seventy something bucks a bottle though. Damn.

Okay, gonna go for a little hike and then shower if I have time before meditation starts again.

9:16pm – Shower won out over hike.

The bathroom here is nicer than my bathroom at home, lack of water pressure aside.

Today was a big meditation meltdown after lunch. A lot of anger and fear came up. Felt like I was having a panic attack.  A1‘s breath was so in my face I felt like I was in a closet with a dead person with no way out. At one point I seriously thought I was going to throw up. When I came back to my room I almost did. I was having hot flashes and then I realized I was dehydrated. I’m not drinking nearly as much water here as I do at home and I’m walking more and… I’m in the desert.  I chugged some water and felt better. Then the evening Dhamma talk made everything better. Goenka’s funny stories, especially the one about, “What is beauty? Is it the hair on the head? Is it still beautiful when it falls in your food?” Ha! I love that one.

Next Time Bring:

Nail cleaner tool
Ayr or Neti Pot (dry air hard on nose)
Hydrocortizone cream (dry air makes skin itchy)
Citrucil (all day sitting does something to ya)
Get a pedicure before the trip (rough feet bugged me)


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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Three


Noon – Today was far less difficult than yesterday.

No screaming back pain. I think it’s the IBU that’s f’ing up my stomach. Didn’t have any dairy, wheat or soy today and was fine until I took IBU.

Lunch today was the best meal so far. Yellow lentil curry soup and TWO kinds of salad! One had sorta ruffly lettuce with tomatoes and a sweet vinegarette dressing and then the ever awesome salad bar. Inspirational Salad Girl outdid herself at lunch with a huge mountain of salad on her plate and it looked like she made her own dressing. I don’t call her inspirational salad girl for nothing!

To amuse myself I’m making up names for people. There’s the Nice Manager and the Kind Teacher. In the row where I sit right in front of the teacher I’m between two other old students. The one to my left I call A1 because that’s her cushion position. (I’m A2, I try harder.) The one on my right is Burpy because she’s prone to frequent burping. Someone behind me is Rustly Girl because she’s always fussing with her cushions and blankets. Then there’s Anna, that’s her real name, who helped me at registration. Anna sits directly behind me. It’s nice knowing Anna’s got my back. Anna I call Dignity, Grace and Beauty because, well, that’s what she is. My nickname for myself is Spilly because I seem to keep spilling and sloshing my drinks out of the cups I’m using. Then there’s Rude Server Girl who broke *Noble Silence for some reason to quiz me about why I was sitting outside the meditation hall. That was really odd.

Rude Server Girl – “Are you okay?”

Me – “Yes.”

Rude Server Girl – “Are you a new student?”

Me – “No.”

Rude Server Girl – “Are you a server?”

Me – “No.”

I thought my one word answers would make it clear I was observing Noble Silence and wasn’t open to conversation, but apparently she took it upon herself to usher me into the hall even though the talk hadn’t started. I wasn’t late. It was weird because the only people who are supposed to talk to us are the teacher or the manager.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m waking up more or if it’s because of the clouds in the sky, but Joshua Tree is GORGEOUS today. Cool and a little overcast because there are so many clouds in the sky, but the air is fresh and crisp and WOW. The vistas are mind-blowing.

I have seen lots of little creatures since I’ve been here. Chipmunks, rabbits, lizards, and birds. The desert exists on her own terms. I like that about her.

P.S. – I can’t be sure, but I suspect my water bottle is cheating on me with the other water bottles while I am meditating.

* Noble Silence – a technique used by a lot of Buddhists, monks, and nuns in which a person refrains from speaking as a way to help quiet the mind and condition the body in the discipline of right speech. By learning to keep from speaking every word that comes up, we can censor or even omit harmful speech, and thus keep from causing harm and suffering to others and ourselves.

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day Two


3:36am – The bane of the three hour sleep demon strikes again.

Just when I thought my Revelation curse was behind me! I must have fallen asleep around 10:30, but a series of bangs woke me up at 2am and I’ve not been able to fall asleep since.

Looking at the schedule I will probably have a chance to snooze after lunch. I remember in the past I’ve sometimes skipped lunch just to catch up on my sleep, but lunch is the big meal of the day so that’s a double-edged sword. Eat too much at lunch, you get sleepy and it’s hard to meditate. Skip lunch, get rested and then deal with hunger pangs the rest of the day.

I can hear someone snoring through the wall. I’m jealous. The morning bell will be rung soon. I’m having lustful thoughts of breakfast already. (Craving, craving, craving!)

10:36am – My stomach hates me.

Was it the single slice of bread I ate last night with the lentil soup? Or the scant spoonful of yogurt on my oatmeal this morning? I am laying on my rock hard cot fully clothed, wondering which will come first: death? or lunch?

11:43am – Lunch came first, although death may soon follow.

Am thinking I’ll have to remember what we ate because I know Sarah will ask. Today it was Pad Thai with tofu galore. Overcooked and they burned the broccoli. How do you BURN broccoli? The salad was good though. Salad bar style salad. Should have taken a cue from one of the other students who made her lunch a massive plate of salad. If it’s wheat, dairy or soy for lunch tomorrow that’ll be my go-to.

Just got a knock on my door that the teacher wants to see me. Any time anyone says, “The teacher wants to see you.” I feel like I’m in big trouble. Doesn’t matter how old I am, I immediately turn into a first grader in my head.

12:16pm – Turns out the teacher wanted to ask me if I feel I’m a new student or an old student since I haven’t been to a retreat in so long. I told her it doesn’t matter to me.  The only real difference would be that I’d get a piece of fruit at tea time as a new student, and I can pass on that.

I’m having an ongoing love affair with the purple water bottle I bought at Target right before I came on this trip. It’s so pretty and it goes with me everywhere.

My kingdom for a nap.

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Joshua Tree Meditation Retreat – Day One

4:35pm – Arrived in one piece.

Google map directions led me to a bar and grill in the middle of nowhere.


Photo Credit:

I walked in and said, “Is this the Retreat Center?”

The dude behind the bar said, “No.”

I looked around at the bleary-eyed patrons hoisting a few in the darkened bar in the middle of the afternoon and said, “I guess it all depends on what you want to retreat from, huh?”

5:25pm – In my room.

So happy my room is a single. This is an entirely new experience. I have my own bathroom with a shower and a potty. Immediately after entering and realizing I had the room to myself, I let the contents of my suitcase explode. “Honey, I’m home!”

Eleven days. I can hang with this.

5:28pm – Already resenting turning over my cell phone in an honest manner. Could have lied and said I left it in my car. Vow next time to bring old Blackberry and smuggle Android into room.

Take solace in vowing to write to compensate for withdrawal symptoms. Grateful for the little notebook I had in the car. Let the word hoarding begin. Must hide notebook. Must break rules.  My inner monk got me here, but my inner rebel is the first one to stage a coup.

7:40pm – Dinner and orientation completed.

Ate like a sow at chow. Remember to be more moderate next time because meditation on a full stomach never works out well.

Bonded with another old student at dinner over the beauty of the North Fork Center and our mutual love of Bengal Spice tea. Confessed to breaking Noble Silence to talk to squirrels in times of hardship at North Fork. She said she did the same.

Glad I quit drinking coffee, but I’m dead tired. One intro meditation to go and we’re done for the day. A-freaking-men!

9:48pm – Intro meditation done.

So happy for bedtime. Don’t know how I’ll sleep though. Bed is hard as a rock and my stomach is upset. Just re-realized as an old student I won’t get to eat after noon. Lemon water and tea only. I don’t mind. It makes it easier to meditate that way.

“I like the way sparkling earrings lay
Against your skin so brown
And I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight
With a million stars all around”

When sunset started happening I was blown away by the beauty of the desert. I get why Glenn Fry wanted to sleep with that girl with the sparkling earrings out here.

Okay, lights out. 4am comes early. No idea how I’ll sleep without “Bob’s Burgers” tonight. My body feels like a lead brick, but I hit over 10,000 steps today without even trying, so that’s something.

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The Inner Roadtrip


Photo Credit:  Lance Gerber

“Is everybody in?
Is everybody in?
Is everybody in?
The ceremony is about to begin…”

In May I went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat in Joshua Tree, one of many 10 day retreats I had been on, but this one was a little different because I kept a journal the whole time I was there.

What’s it like to sit for meditation for an hour a stretch for 10+ hours a day every day for 10 days?  Well, there’s no hiding from your stuff.  Sometimes you feel peaceful and blissful, yes, but sometimes you also feel pissy, petty, lonely and just about every other feeling and sensation known to man.  Vipassana meditation is about mastering the mind and observing the body, and for the next several weeks I invite you to take that journey with me.

If you want to come along and not miss a post, please do subscribe to the blog by entering your email at the prompt on the right hand side of the page where it says, “Sign me up!”.  Also, for extra bonus deliciousness, my friend Sarah and I do a podcast called Sex With Penguins where we explore the topics of spirituality and sexuality.  Our last mini-episode was recorded right after I returned from this retreat.  You can listen to the podcast a variety of places, but do us a solid and subscribe on iTunes.  If you like us, you can also rate us and write a review for us there as well, we’d really appreciate it!

Thanks so much, and so now if you are ready, strap in and let the inner roadtrip begin!

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I’ve learned a lot this year about setting an intention and following through. Sometimes a powerful, prayerful intention by itself is enough to get the ball rolling, but often saying yes to that intention means letting go of everything that is not in alignment with it, and that can be uncomfortable and/or painful.

At the start of 2016 I set the intention to travel.  The Universe did a lot of my legwork for me when in January I left a job that wasn’t a great fit and in February my beloved cat, Kim passed away a few days before her 18th birthday.

Neither of these spontaneous “let go”s were in my game plan when I first set the intention, but I had already stepped into trust and freedom in a big, big way. Since then I’ve gone to Joshua Tree for a 10 day meditation retreat, went to Seattle twice and now I’m spending a week in Oahu. After what seemed like a very long dark night of the soul, my life feels fertile, creative and magical once again.

What’s even better is that I’m back in school cultivating my ministers heart and right now I’m here looking out at the gorgeousness of this blue, blue water doing an assignment for a class.  What’s the topic of the class?  Funny you should ask… straight from my notes:

Intent is internal; it is a place of integration.  Intent is a place and space in consciousness, it is not a “what” or a “how” it is a “where”.

And a quote from our reading this week:

Do not confuse desire and intent. In desire there is a longing, but the longing itself, if too intense, will convince you that the desires of your heart are not possible.
~ Rev. Deborah Johnson, from the book “Your Deepest Intent”

The desires of your heart are possible!  Stand behind your intent, line your life up behind it in word, action and deed, and fire up your word with your passion.

I’m so grateful for the blessings in my life and the blessing OF my life!  Thank you for being with me on this journey!

Hawaii 5-0, A True Story!

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Return To Cold Creek

Hike 1

I never know when I’m going to end up here.

I may get in my car thinking I’m going to pick up a few things at the store, or that I’m going to the post office. Today I laced up my shoes thinking I would go take a sedate little walk around the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, but no. The mountains. Only the mountains would do.

When I first got my car, affectionately named Ed, I took him part way up there to give him a feel for what he would be in store for as my vehicle. That was the evening he told me his name and also informed me he wasn’t fond of how fast I liked to drive. This trip was my first time taking Ed all the way in to the area of the mountains I call my Living Room.

The mountains said, “Welcome home.”

I was nervous going all the way in. Nervous because I’d never taken Ed on that rutted dirt road before. Ed, who is a distinguished silver gentleman. I don’t think Ed has ever been taken mudwhomping before. Fortunately for him, and sadly for me, there was no water or mud to whomp in. The two places on the paved part of the road where the creek crosses were completely dry. No satisfying “SPLOOSH!” of the river as I drove over the road.

It was weird to be nervous there. Those mountains are usually the place I feel the most calm and the most myself. I parked Ed just outside of the “DO NOT TRESPASS” gate. The place I’d parked my second Honda so many times before. The first Honda I didn’t have to park there because when I had that first Honda there weren’t any barriers on the property. You could drive all the way in as far as you liked back then, but today I parked outside of the gate, and I was nervous.

The mountains said, “Welcome home.”

I ducked between the bars of the gate and started walking. It was quiet there, as always, but the sound of my own walking seemed to drown out everything else. My gosh I’m noisy when I walk. My pants, which were too long and are of that odd windbreaker type fabric, made noise as my thighs rubbed together and each time my foot hit the ground I could hear the hems drag. My shoes made the predictable “crunch, crunch” on the grainy dirt road, but I also noticed for the first time that my running shoes squeak. So as I walked along, this one small person in this great big place, I felt as stealth as a traveling circus calliope going at full steam announcing the “Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus of One” on the way down the trail.


The mountains quietly said, “Welcome home.”

The longer I walked, the more I felt embarrassed at how noisy I was. I kept stopping because I thought I heard something else, but… no, it was always just me.

I was also walking with this sense of urgency because I ended up getting there after 4pm and although it had been sunny and kinda hot in the Valley all day, by the time I made it up there it was getting overcast and already starting to get dark.

I went up there without an agenda, I thought, but as I parked my car before the gate barricade I realized, “I’ve got to go to where I left mom’s ashes.” I didn’t want to go, necessarily, but that was where I was going. That was what this trip was about.

Walking loud, walking nervous, I kept thinking about how I was now in the ecotone, that place on the edge between civilization and wilderness. I thought about that episode of “Six Feet Under” where the dude who dies in that episode is jogging in the hills and he gets attacked by a cougar. I nervously looked around for random cougars or coyotes that might pop out of the bushes without warning.

I thought about Joe Perry of Aerosmith’s autobiography, which I had just finished reading, and how he mentioned he loved the woods because there was the possibility of danger around every corner, and how he welcomed the excitement of that. Of course he always went into the woods with a dog and a gun. I had neither. I realized, in my spontaneity, I had neglected to bring a jacket, so it was just me, my noisy-ass pants, shoes, a thin t-shirt and my hair in a ponytail stuffed under a baseball hat.

“Grrrr! I am mountain woman! Fear me imagined predators of the wilderness!”

The last time I was up here I brought my mom’s ashes with me. I still have a video of scattering her ashes in the creek on my Blackberry. I forgot I’d taken it, but I was dinking around with my Blackberry one day and there it was. I never posted it anywhere and I still haven’t watched it all the way through, but… it’s there.

I walked the wide pathway until it narrowed and offered me the familiar high road / low road choice. I usually take the low road because it’s closer to the creek and this time I wanted to see if there was any water in the creek back there. I had a moment where I got excited, “I hear water!” I stopped. But no… “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…” pause …it’s the pants.

The last time I was there I brought mom’s ashes. When was that? Blackberry says… oh, of course! June 11, 2011. Her birthday. So it’s been three years and almost seven months since I was last in the mountains? Christ! How is that possible?

The place had changed. In June the creek was flowing and things were green. In June!

Walking the low road I was surprised to see a huge tree had fallen since the last time I was there. In fact, I think I shot a quick video of this tree the last time I was here.  Yes, here it is.

The tree, as it stood then, is the biggest one on the left.  It split right in half, as you can see here.

Split Tree

The tree fell directly on the road, so there won’t be any cars taking the low road for awhile. I wonder when it fell? And I wonder if the people who own the property have any intention of clearing it?

Fallen Tree

I walked under and through the fallen tree to get to the place where the creek runs. The creek bed was eroded with just a slimy little trickle moving through. Change, change, change. I want to say it’s sad, but it’s not sad, it just is. We’re in a drought. Trees fall, creeks dry up. Change happens.

Once I got past the creek the urgency was upon me like an angry little monkey biting me in the scalp. “Starting to get dark. Must get to the place where I left her ashes.”

It was beautifully silent, but I couldn’t hear the quiet. All I could hear were my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks. The hike is uphill all the way at this point. Not an incredibly steep hill, but an incline all the same. I moved faster trying to beat the setting sun. In addition to my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks, now I was starting to huff and puff. “Wow, I’m really out of shape,” I think, but I pushed on.

My eyes were mainly on the rutted dirt road, but they still darted around looking for snakes. or coyotes, or cougars, or maybe Sasquatch! There were animal poops on the road that looked a little familiar. Was it possum poop? Possums don’t want to be hassled and neither did I. I could handle a peace loving possum should I see one.

Almost there, just around this bend…

I don’t know what I expected to see, after all, it’s been over three years, but I still looked around hoping to see the rocks I piled up and maybe the necklace I’d left.

I wondered if someone had taken the necklace. I wondered if there’s someone walking around wearing it now. But there was nothing. Rocks, yes, and the usual brush, but no trace of her left.

“Well,” I thought, “there it is then. She’s gone.”

I hadn’t realized how afraid I’d been to come back to this place until I was there. I know she’s gone, I knew she was gone, but coming back confirmed it. Change. Change to this holy place. Changes within me.

Maybe now I can reclaim the place for myself. I brought my mother up here because she wanted to be here and now she’s everywhere and nowhere. Once I brought her up here I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t want to come back in a month and find the stones toppled over and the necklace in the dirt. Better to wait years and know the mountain had taken care of her for me.

I took a few more photos while standing there. I think I captured the Face of God ridge in the far distance in this shot, but I’m not positive. I think so though.

Face of God

Standing there I noticed the trail going down into the valley is back. The last time I was there it was completely overgrown. As usual I didn’t see a single person while I was there, but I saw plenty of shoe tracks. People hike that narrow little trail. The first glimmer of enthusiasm for hiking there again came to me looking at that trail. But not now, not today.

It was getting dark. Time to go.

Heading back the same way I came was an easy downhill trot. No more huffing and puffing of the wheezy calliope. Because of the fallen tree, I had to take the high road back. They paved it with fresh asphalt! Who paves the road and yet doesn’t cut up the fallen tree? Who maintains this property? I’ve never seen anyone here, so I’m still not sure whose land I’ve been trespassing on for the past 38 years.

While walking on the high road I saw a trail I’d never seen before. Weirdly someone put up a couple of posts there like, “Hey! Look! A trail!” I was intrigued. I wanted to come back and find out where the trail goes. I felt like I was discovering something new about an old lover looking at the trail. She’s been holding back on me! How did I not know this trail was there? I must know her secrets!


I was still nervous on the walk out. I had no idea how much light I had left. By the time the “whoosh, whoosh!” of my pants had taken me almost to my car I heard a rattling sound that freaked me out. Not like a rattlesnake rattling, I never would have heard that over my noisy pants anyway, this was like someone shaking a bunch of coins in a tin can in a bush near me. I have NO IDEA what it was and I didn’t stick around to find out.

There was a panicky moment when I approached the gate and I couldn’t see Ed. His silver body blended in with the silvery sage he was parked near. I thought about what I would do if my car got towed. Fortunately, I saw him then and pushed that thought out of my mind.

Once behind the wheel of Ed, safely hugged by the interior, memories hung heavy from my previous visits. The rattlesnake I came on in the middle of the path when I was with D. that time, the time after that when I went hiking in my boots and the soles came off during the walk and then the last time, taking mom’s ashes up there.

I hadn’t realized I was hiking into the mountains to face my fears, but that’s what ended up happening. Once I was out I didn’t have the completely exhausted, blissed out feeling I usually get, but I was deeply relaxed and energized.

Nature heals. I’d forgotten.

On the way home I decided to swing by mom’s old house because I wanted to see how the buttermilk was holding up in the fridge. I’m planning to bake a vegetable pie and I needed to see if it had gone over to the dark side. Being at the house felt good, I noticed. It felt different. Lighter. Less sad. I dumped the buttermilk, put away the dishes that had been sitting in the drainer and decided to drag all the boxes of junk that had been sitting around in the living room back into mom’s bedroom.

The last time I was there I made the bed in my old room and spread a quilt on mom’s bed. So I went into both rooms and turned on the lights to survey my work. As I dragged boxes into mom’s bedroom the light went out. I said, “Mom, I need the light. I’m bringing boxes in here.” The light went back on and then, as I was standing there, it went back off and on again very quickly. It was like the light was being cute and teasing me. Mom.

When I left the place where I left her ashes I had said goodbye to her. This playing with the lights in her bedroom was like her saying hello to me. Not goodbye. Hello. A playful, happy, clear, “Hello!”

We made an agreement long before she got sick that if she could figure out how to communicate with me from the other side, she would do so. My caveat was, “But you can’t come back and scare me.” This didn’t scare me. It was funny. “Hello!” Mom learns how to play with electricity and says hello.

Sometimes you don’t notice thresholds you’ve crossed over until after you’ve gone through them. I think this threshold was something that was long overdue, but couldn’t be rushed.

But the mountains said, “Welcome home.”

And my mom said, “Hello!”


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