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Roadmap to Compassion


9 Minute Read

Recently, somebody asked how I found my way to The Fields of Kindness. This is, as much as it can be, my reply.

I was first diagnosed at thirteen, and even though I grew up (eventually) and became a psychotherapist, I was particularly blinded to my own baseline and lifelong depression.

Through the prism of hindsight, I can see chapters like hills gently rolling out my little life. Childhood ended when I was sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. After that came what I call the drug years, or the lost years. They certainly were that. During those sixteen years, aged fourteen to thirty, I missed a few things. The vortex of addiction is a particularly narrow tunnel. The horrors of Thatcherism largely passed me by. I missed out on two opportunities to get Australian citizenship, just by showing up at an amnesty with my passport. I threw away a woman who loved me when she asked me to choose between her and the drugs.

Having taken myself to the very edge of the human world, I defied the odds and stayed alive. A third chapter opened. I was wretched and wrecked and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to stumble back into the realms of the living.

Not in a Hollywood whoosh, but slowly and blindly little bits and pieces started to move, like metal filings pulled toward Home.

While in Rehab I’d been taught to go to Narcotics Anonymous, so that’s what I did. In the meeting rooms, some were talking about going to therapy, so I did that too. Looking back, I can see more clearly, just how ravaged I was. Commitment to drugs will take everything a person is or can be, and I had utterly given myself up to it. I had no capacity for self-reflection. I didn’t know what was going on inside me, or around me. I didn’t know that I was managing self-hatred as big as the world, the only way I knew how. I was held together by a few Leonard Cohen songs and a taste of something elusive I sometimes found on the MDA fueled dance floors with the gay men.

Coming out of that, almost dead but not quite, after multiple suicide attempts and all manner of unlikely failures at dying, there wasn’t much left. I’m taking a moment to look back at her now, from thirty years on down the track and it makes me wince. I don’t quite understand how I moved from there to anywhere.

Only possible, I think, because of the 12 Step Fellowship. Thank you Narcotics Anonymous, first in Sydney and then in London, for holding me. It was basic stuff. Go to a meeting every day. Or even two. If it gets bad enough, go to a third. Don’t use. Get a sponsor. Keep It Simple Sweetheart was KISS. The way we held hands at the end of meetings and said the Serenity Prayer.

I stayed drug and alcohol free and used the 12-step formula for six years. It was, to paraphrase Mr. Cohen, a Temple where they told me what to do. It was my first experience of being received. I was welcome and understood. I was offered some guidance, but not in a top down kind of way… I kept hearing versions of my own story. I got a taste of resonance and I liked it.

I didn’t know I couldn’t think, or that I couldn’t see myself at all. I went to therapy and slowly began to translate some narrative meaning. The story of me started to make sense. I was immensely moved, as I came into focus, not only by my desperation and suffering, but by the processes of self-rescue, and the intimacy of psychotherapy itself. I found myself training without ever having asked myself if I wanted to be a therapist. Some years later when I did stop to ask that question, I found the answer was yes.

As for depression and me… now that it’s achingly simple, I have to concentrate and focus to remember the wracking labour pains.

I didn’t like the word Depression in relation to me. It felt like a judgement and a terrible failure. I should have worked it through or healed it. Or, God help me, translated it. I did so much cathartic bodywork and was always disappointed not to get rid of my heavy. I worked like a dog with a bone… I did family constellations, all manner of group therapy, shamanic healing, rituals, prayers, plant medicine, laying on the couch three times a week, periodic (secret) antidepressants and then Tantra and 5Rythms dance.

Every single undertaking gave me succour. I was very hungry. If I gaze back at all my endeavors, I feel touched by my appetite and longing to be healed and whole, even as I was partially trapped in my own prescription for that. I was nourished, though. I ate a lot of light. I found a sense of place, or the beginning of one. I met with my own homelessness and started to welcome grief.

What did for me, was that no matter how much light I ate, and how much good medicine nourished me, I was still waking up each day with the weight of the world on my chest and the taste of defeat in my mouth. I didn’t even want to call that depression, which is a little bit daft for an experienced psychotherapist, but hey.

The worst symptom of depression is the relentless narrative voice. A violent and unforgiving self-rap. The head-fuckery of it. The impossibility. The fact that it is never, ever going to be okay, to be here like This.

I moved through life and life moved through me. Sometimes with more ease and sometimes with less, but never free from the weight of myself. Never able to make myself well in the way I had in mind and vision.

Something happened. After all the fighting, the twisting and spinning in the wind, and after every trick in the book was exhausted, there was just nowhere left to go, so I fell. It was a palpable fall. My system gave up and I lost my grip on it all. It was a relief.

I didn’t know where I’d landed for quite a while, but when I started to get my bearings, postcardsfromthewindowledge.com was born. I didn’t know much, but for the first time, that didn’t seem to matter. It seemed I had fallen, not from Grace, but directly into it.

This is my first Postcard from the window-ledge and I called it: Forgiveness.

There is a wide divide
between an idea of me in my life
and the truth
and I have tried and tied
myself in knots
with medicine and meditation
to make a better fit
and rearrange the pieces into
much more satisfactory shape
I did not understand why I kept failing
and falling, or see the hopeless, helpless
circles and cul-de-sacs of trying to make
a brand new cut out of old cloth.
I had to unlearn the tyranny of healing
and find my own
that didn’t have so much to say
about healing and transformation
rebirth and renewal
and especially about surrender
oh, how I had to stop trying to surrender right
the pitch perfect surrender
like chasing an impossible orgasm
Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying
I have found that I can love life
and long for death, at the same time
that both are true and I am as full of tenderness
as of despair.

The last frontier was about my attachment to an idea of episodic depression rather than the baseline kind. If I was going to be a member of the depressed tribe, I really wanted to believe in, on and off, good and bad, in and out, alive and dead… you get the picture. I wanted to have episodes of depression, in between which I could be well, wide open, productive and even happy or joyful. This was quite a showdown. The truth is that I’m not an episodic depressive, though I have forced myself into that construct on occasion. It has been the source of so much suffering. Finding in myself a welcome state of well-being, I couldn’t ever let that be in co-existence with the bleakness in my bones.

Depression Is My Home Address. It just is. Of course, I am thoughtful about this. Nature and nurture, generational mental health and all manner of self-diagnosis. But this thing called depression, the sheer weight of it, and its particular quality of darkness, have always been with me. Having spent so much of my life trying to get rid of myself, it feels so good to stop.

When I fell, I landed in The Fields of Kindness. I don’t really know how that happened, but suspect it could only happen in that tiny beat of surrender. In that precious moment when I couldn’t go on and gave up on everything, the thing that was trying to happen, could.

These fields were here all the time, just waiting for me. I have to tell you though, that they are not warm and fuzzy fields. They exist in an elemental world, rather than a Disney film. The wild winds blow in and the grass often tastes of salt. These fields though, they are so kind and so damned inclusive.

Radical simplicity: it is just This, over and over, breath by breath. I was here all the time. And depressed without the internalised voices making it wrong, over and over, is a much simpler kettle of fish. Embodied rocks, laboured breath, the darkest, almost starless night sky, and all the sighing and moaning that living with a dog and a cat forgives. What if there’s nowhere to run from? Or anyone else to try and be? What if there is nothing to fix?

Sometimes I can’t work out if my little life got smaller, while knowing for sure that spaciousness happened. I’m always saying, thank you, Life, and loving the absurdity of having so much gratitude for a life I also long to be done with and out of.

If I have anything to contribute to the dialogue about depression, it’s to do with compassion, kindness and welcome. What if there really is nothing to fix? I know it’s controversial and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but absolutely nothing else worked until I put out the welcome mat.

I have to tend to that mat, pick it up and bash it against the wall once a week, and brush off the debris. I reckon it’s a lifelong practice of remembering to welcome the one I’m with and keep giving myself up to This, especially when This is not what I had in mind or plan.

Haiku Days


4 Minute Read

On August 11th, I took a picture of my dog’s paw, resting gently in the cup of my hand. Not a work of art, photography not being a thing I’m particularly good at. It caught a little sweetness though. Without me trying, a haiku arose to sit beside it. I posted them on Facebook.

The next day, another haiku arrived, and the next day, another. I decided to make a haiku a day for a month. Thirty-one haiku later, I am grateful to this thread of small constructions of word and syllable: a spontaneous ritual that called me to meet myself on a daily basis.

I hold my dog's paw.
Ribbons of light, bind me tight
to this little life

I’ve never been a journal keeper. In fact, my writing is wholly undisciplined. I’m full of unwritten writing and that’s a sad fact. I suspect forgiving myself for that is a life-long project.

These haiku days, have been illuminating. And medicinal.

Dog haiku each day
Keeps Black-Dog, hound teeth at bay
It's a small Blessing

I have learned some things along the road, that hold me now. Of course, I wish I’d learned them sooner. Mostly these lessons have been about simplicity and kindness. How to be kind to the one I am, the one I’m with, and how to welcome, even revel in sometimes, a simplicity that’s like an empty table.

The thing about living in the hinterland of depressed, is just how much racket the storms of judgement can make. It’s hard to find the gateway to simple, within all that banging and crashing. Somehow, between my hanging on and giving up, by the kindnesses of others, a beloved dog and a few maps and signposts left by the poets and vagabonds, I have found that gate.

Dog repetition
He takes me out, and back in
Three times, everyday

It’s been much quieter since the condemnations have ceased. I should be this. I should be that. The erosive violence of all that should and shouldn’t: weights and measures of success.

Mouth open: shouting
Gold falls out, and other things
It is not pretty

The haiku have helped me. A small discipline, but a discipline nevertheless. A practice, like walking Leonard The Dog. A commitment. A deal. A promise to show up. An actual showing up that is small and distilled enough for me to succeed at. See, even I’m doing it. Success: what does it mean?

Sometimes. Often, I can only stay for a fragment, a heartbeat, half a heartbeat. I need to retreat. I do come back, to myself or to you, but not immediately. I need a lot of breathing space. Quite literally, to just ‘breathe in’ space. I used to tear strips off myself for this disappearing. I deemed it absent, as a pose to the altar of Presence, where we all seem to worship. Now, I don’t even know if that’s true. I just know that I can forgive myself, if I need forgiving, and that I am free to be the one who disappears and comes back and then goes again.

No haiku came through
Running empty, all day long
Dog kissed my eyelids

The haiku are both small enough and big enough. Tiny and huge. A container. A street corner. A date. Every day the promise to haiku tugged at my hand and brought me to myself for a heartbeat or half.

And, looking back at these captured fragments of my last thirty-one days, I realise I have kept some kind of record. It’s a haiku diary.

Depressed needs to rest
Aches for the Aegean Sea
Body remembers

I dabble with the possibility of carrying on. A year of haiku. Or a lifetime.

On the 19th of August, Leonard and I ambled in our favourite London cemetery. This is the note.

Forgiveness of death
Old stones and trees, bent by time
accompany us

Many of these of these tiny reports, are love letters to my dog. The one who’s teaching me just how much love I am capable of: the one I share my days and nights with.

You are my darling
The face I wake up and see
Sweetest company

Dog rolled in something
Dog got washed from nose to tail
Dog smells wonderful

I am often lost. I stumble and fall, I lurch and crawl, and while these are metaphors, it is also direct reporting. I can’t quite understand how no-one else seems to notice me crashing into walls and falling over my own feet. Stumbling through the days of my little life, is graphic. Now, I know to keep things simple. There is a cradle I can fall back into, and it’s made up of small things: domestic repetitions, lighting many candles each day, always having flowers, walking in and out with Leonard, lists, naps, gratitude, doing the best work I can with my clients. This cradle of Grace is a living thing. There are flowers, reeds and weeds, growing in the nooks and crannies. I lined it with moss and earth. It both holds and anchors me.

Maybe, just maybe, the haiku can hold and anchor me too.

Stroking Naked Men


6 Minute Read

I started stroking naked men for money in 2007. It feels light years ago. Not so much in linear distance, but more in the sense of understanding from this nine years later perspective, what it was I was doing. Back then it was simply a call to heart that sang out clear and true, even as it challenged the heck out of my mind.

I’d come out of a period of extreme grief. As that first ravaged year turned, I needed a project. I was interested in men, having spent most of my adult life identifying as lesbian. I didn’t want a relationship in the orthodox sense of it, but oh, how I wanted relationship. Stroking Naked Men was born from this place. There I stood. A middle aged, professional woman, with a strangely compelling idea.

I fretted for a bit. I worried about what other people would think and whether the ‘psychotherapy police’ would get me. I tried to talk myself out of it for good and logical reasons. Dear Reader, I had to do it. In the end it was simple. It was one of those things that must be done, even if they don’t wholly make sense.

I bought a second phone and distilled an invitation into a twenty-word classified ad. I told myself I would stop the moment anything felt off key. I hung out my shingle and started work.

This is what I knew. I wanted to create and offer intimacy within a structure. To use what I’d learned over two decades as a therapist about how to hold space and attention. I wanted to touch rather than handle people, and lovingly offer pleasure rather than mechanistically get them off.

Men started rolling in. I learned how to use the telephone as a portal and to pick up the attitude underneath the words. I said ‘no’ a lot. I was weeding out anger and contempt, and the colour palate of misogyny. I could hear it crouched and hiding in the most charming and articulate, as palpably as its more obvious counterpart. The men who ask ‘how much to come on your face’ as soon as I pick up the phone.

This is how it goes with my naked men: a phone call leading to an appointment. Leading to a man on my doorstep at a designated time. Leading to him being invited in, being welcomed and settled. I take a little time to say ‘hello’ to let him take me in and to breathe him in too. I check if there’s anything he’d like to ask or say before I get him unwrapped and up on the table. Over and over again, over these years, I’ve stood in this beginning moment with many men. It always pulses with vulnerability. Always. And I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of that vulnerability. It takes courage for men to walk into erotic tenderness, and it’s a different kind of courage than that required for combat.

In my book, there’s getting undressed and then there’s being naked. They are quite different things. I like the naked place. My erotic work is situated in that mysterious landscape. It’s simple. I show up. I welcome you. I am in service to your session.

I have pleasured and loved a lot of men since I began this chapter of my life. More men than most women have through their hands in a lifetime. I now know my brothers in a way I can’t imagine getting to in any other manner. Gratitude is a drumbeat in my blood. My thank you is a prayer.

I am generous by nature and it’s easy to be this, within the structure and form I created. I love this work. I am in my best self when I do it. I have witnessed and held so much embodied, naked soul, in these sessions. I have been touched over and over, not by complicated stuff, but by the simplest of human stuff. Seeing so many men, in the beauty and vulnerability of orgasm has blown a place in my heart right open. Maybe, it’s because I am there in this very particular, devotional way and it’s a ritual, and because he is so exposed rather than buried deeply inside the woman, that it has such Grace. I take the holding and the showing up, very seriously. I’m there in service. It is for him. It is all for him. And, I don’t mean by that, that I’m cut off or absent. It’s the opposite. I am so utterly, absolutely there. I am with him. With me too, or it wouldn’t work.

I suspect that my naked men like, value and even love me, because I can give such an ‘it’s all for you’ experience, without disappearing and making it mechanistic and empty. I’m right there, so it’s intimate and real. And yet, I don’t need to be attended to or gratified. In fact, I’ve come to understand that this is my very favorite sexual position. I reckon it’s my unique selling point. Authentic devotion. That’s all.

I seem to be tailing off my naked business these days. I am more word of mouth than out there in the shop window of sexual services. I’m writing more and baking more. And when I am called to the massage table, I step up there smiling.

I am full of my naked men. I have been told many secrets, shown wounds, battle scars, triumphs and a world full of libidinal joy. I have learned a lot of things about men and about myself. My men have been generous, and even if they didn’t know they were helping me, they have.

I am now quite sure it’s nakedness that turns me on, rather than just the stripping off of clothes. So, vulnerability is sexy. Radical or what? Recently, a rather anxious man got preoccupied with what was it I was doing to him? I wasn’t ‘doing’ to him as much as I was meeting him. I believe that every one of us, each in our own way, longs for that. I knew that when I started this project, but I didn’t know it in the beat of my heart, in the breath of me, the way I know it now.

I have been asked more than a few times, in the heat of a moment: ‘do you like cock?’

‘I like cock’, I say back.’If it’s attached to a man I can like.’

I have to like my naked men, in order to accompany them, to uncover and discover them, to hold not only their cock, but also their heart, in my hands. In a nutshell, I can tell you, I have liked a lot of men. I consider this a blessing.

You can find Caroline at her website: Carolina Cooks for You

And her musings about depression: www.postcardsfromthewindowledge.com

Thank you, Mr. Cohen


7 Minute Read

I stand here in the world without you in it anymore, still reeling from America having put Donald Trump in the White House. When I heard that you’d died on the 7th not the 10th, I couldn’t help smiling at your impeccable comic timing. Thank you for your last joke.

I could just write:

Dear Leonard,

I thank you.

Love
Caroline

It would, in essence, be saying everything. And yet, I do want to add my little voice to the prayers of thanks. A little square in the patchwork or a thread in the weave. So many voices saying thank you.

I received many messages when the world heard you’d died. I found out that way, waking up to the pinging of text messages from beloved friends. Many precious people told me I was their first thought on hearing the news that you had gone.

I am more touched by this, than I can say. The truth is, you can’t really see me without seeing how you live in my bones and blood. I first found your work when I was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, aged thirteen. I can’t remember how or why, I had in my possession a small plastic record player and three LP’s. Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs Of Love & Hate, and Melanie’s, Candles In The Rain.

They were desperate times. I was preoccupied with suicidal thoughts, but could not carry them through. Something was holding me in the world and I couldn’t bear to be so held. I was angry, frightened and more horrifyingly alone than I had any vocabulary for. You had the words that pierced my soul. I didn’t need to understand all the narrative threads and themes, which I didn’t, but I found an echo of the places I was utterly broken, inside your poetry and inside your voice. You became the thread of some prayer, holding me in this world.

It hasn’t been a breeze. I’ve wasted a lot time fighting with depression, from the complete denial of having any such thing, to the final battles of defense against the truth of having the baseline kind. Surely, I could have some super ups to counter the weight of down?

About the same time as you were reporting your depression was gently slipping out of you, I was finally, after all else had failed, learning to welcome mine. I was discovering the taproot of my own tenderness and you, as ever, were helping me. I have loved you for your exquisite writing, for the particulars of your dear voice, for your grace and humanity, not to mention your wicked sense of humor. But, maybe above all else, I have loved you for your tenderness to the human condition and your compassion for our small endeavors. It is through your body of work that I have come to understand, I am both broken and I am whole.

I know you needed to come back out on the road for financial reasons, but the fact you kept circling the world, long after your bank balance was restored, was something else. That last, grand tour, in several chapters over some years: well, I hope it was as good for you as it was for us. What a privilege of heart, to have been at a handful of those shows. I saw you in London, Brighton, Madrid, Florence and Ghent. I heard you say, more than once: ‘Friends, I don’t know when we’ll meet again… but tonight we’re going to give you everything we’ve got.’

Oh my, how you did. And how much gratitude flowed between the audiences and the stage? And, up on the stage too, as you kneeled before your musicians and bowed and bowed again. We were all thanking each other, from the ravaged and beautiful heartland of intimacy. You sure could make an intimate thing happen in a jam-packed auditorium.

In 2013, I got to meet you in a hotel bar. I was waiting to check in and when I looked up you were sitting a few feet away. I did not think or look before I leapt. As I arrived at your chair, I realized in an almost imperceptible micro beat, that I was intruding. It was too late though, and to be honest, I can’t be too sorry. I got to see you, upon my request to shake your hand, bring yourself fully into presence. No going through the motions, or half hearted, tired gesture for the zillionth fan. You called yourself to attention stood up and took my hand in both yours. You looked at me properly, like that was your only concern in that moment, and graciously received my gratitude for such good company, along the, sometimes treacherous highways and byways of life. Thank you, my dear. You said, in your achingly, familiar voice.

A year later in the summer of 2014, whilst enduring a rather desperate day in my little life, I was compelled to make you a video letter. This was a dreamlike experience, as I recalled afterwards. The evidence remains though, and my rough, technically speaking, badly made film, went out into the world via YouTube. It wasn’t until several months later that I realized you had seen it. I came upon your note to me on Allan Showalter’s website. To know that you took the time, about six minutes in fact, to take me in and receive my love and gratitude, makes me smile. Your response too.

Dear Caroline,

Deeply touched.
More than I can say here.
Thank you.
Love and Blessings,

Leonard

I wasn’t too surprised to hear of your death. Even though you had been perfectly discreet about the details of your illness, it seemed you were near the edge of this world. Your beautiful love letter to Marianne was both cryptic and explicit. Your last album: a love letter and a goodbye, if I ever heard one.

I have wondered on occasion, how it has been for you, to be so loved, by us, the recipients of your blessed work. As your son, Adam, wrote a few days ago - your hand forged a tower of work. You are renowned for your kindness to fans. Friends, as you called us. The paradox of your deep privacy, offset against the naked offering of yourself through the work. You spoke very directly to your people through that doorway. You were such a doorway for me.

Some people have attributed you with godlike qualities. I’m not so comfortable with worshipping my fellow travellers, being by nature more of love and respect sort of girl. I don’t think you liked that kind of adulation much, but regardless, it always seemed to me you were so very human. I think you touched so much in so many, just because you gave sublime poetry to the most universal of human dilemmas. You gave us ourselves. You showed us we are luminous as we stumble along, doing our best and doing our worst. Thank you for your life, and for the discipline and devotion to your craft that is the architecture of that Tower Of Song.

In some ways, I haven’t managed much constancy in my life. Not until more recently anyway, as I have found my way to The Fields Of Kindness. You, though, have been a constant. You have been with me all the way from that corridor floor at the psychiatric hospital. Sometimes I can hardly believe that little girl made it and is now walking towards 60. I wouldn’t have made it without you. I mean that most sincerely, Mr. Cohen. I hear your songs and poetry, even when I am not listening to a device or reading a book. You have infused my life with light, by showing me how to include and even celebrate, the wretched and the wrecked. The light does indeed come in through what’s broken and sometimes the only word on my tongue is, Hallelujah.

Dreaming of Death


1 Minute Read

I’ve always been preoccupied by death. As a child I worried a lot about dying in the night. I worried about being suffocated or split in two by a speeding train. The psychotherapist I grew up to become has some thoughts about those fantasies, but that’s another riff.

It hasn’t been the easiest journey to reach what I call ‘the fields of kindness’. It has taken most of my life so far, to truly start to soften and relax. By that, I mean relax with who I am and where I find myself. Surprising, just how elusive simplicity can be. Simplicity was patiently waiting for me all this time.

I offer this preamble, because I want to talk about my relationship to and with death. It would be reductive to say something like: she’s had a broken life and lives with depression, therefore a self-confessed longing for death is suicidal ideation.

I have been suicidal. I tried to die for the first time when I was thirteen and for the last time when I was thirty. I didn’t understand why I kept failing. I was desperate. I tried every which way. Plastic bags on my head, razor blades, hanging, overdoses. I couldn’t quite let go.

Now I get it. I was in unutterable pain and death called me long and loud. Now I get that life was calling long and loud too. I love life, though it has taken a long time to arrive. I can love life and long for death at the same time.

I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.

In April 2014 I started sending Postcards from the Window Ledge and it has proved the most redemptive writing I have ever tapped out. It was time for me to forgive myself for being depressed. Even more radical, it was time to welcome the one I am, rather than keep chasing down the one I think I need to be. Oh my, what a homecoming.

And now, I live, more or less, in The Fields Of Kindness. Kindness to what is, rather than a sanitized, feel good version. It can be fierce. My fields are situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. The winds blow in and waves crash on the rocks. The grass in my fields always tastes of salt.

Because I have been blessed to find this wellspring of compassion, inside me, for myself and for this crazy, broken and beautiful world, my longing for death is now much clearer to see. It has become simple, like so many things have. Some people long to meet a human partner in this world and I long to leave it. I make that compareision because this longing has a very particular quality. I think it is the same longing. A universal longing.

It is more usual to discuss a longing to meet a soul mate, at a social gathering, than to bring up a longing for death. So, I am rather chuffed, that over the last couple of years, partly by blogging from the window ledge and by talking about something unspeakable, this longing of mine has become visible, included and even loved. Last weekend I was at a gathering of my home dance group and our teacher ended a teaching point with the words: unless you want to be dead… No, not you Caroline, she added. The group chuckled. Oh, how much I loved that comedic lightness of touch and acceptance.

I spend a lot of time imagining my dying and death. Not unlike the wistful dreaming of meeting a beloved. I riff on it in my mind. It’s a narrative I visit often. I add detail and follow threads, like writing a song. I know it’s slightly off key to daydream about getting a terminal illness, but it’s not off key to me. I find it deeply soothing, even as I know that fantasy and reality are different and accept I have no control over how and when I die. If God’s a joker and I suspect he/she/it is, then I’ll probably die in a car crash. I’ll be gone in an instant and miss the whole thing. I don’t want to miss it. I want to experience every last drop of it. I think I’d die well, if life gives me the opportunity to test my thesis.

Death has a bad press, but what if it was as tender as birth? Having been privileged to welcome a daughter, and to say goodbye to a sister, I know it to be the very same border. The first breath, as we enter the embodied world and the very last one as we slip out of human form and back into the mystery.

One of my roads not travelled, is a heart-house funeral service. I see it quite vividly: big house, gardens, bodies received and tended to, families and friends cared for, groups, prayers and rituals of all and no denomination, community, art, music… above all else, space held for the ravaged beauty of death and dying: a kind, compassionate and human space, for this utterly human experience. I’m a death wife in my soul. And a birth wife, so to speak, because that borderland of first and last breath, is my kind of land. I like it there. It’s simple and quiet. And intimate. And when you’re there, there’s nowhere else you can be.

I’m not one of those dynamo types, the ones that make dreams and visions happen in the actual world. I’m unlikely to build my Heart House of Death. So maybe my contribution to the death conversation is just this: my notes, the odd riff, a postcard or two, and a tendency to bring up death at dinner parties.

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