Cosmic Dust

Diary 6/5/21

The end of June marks Richard’s birthday and a week later, Father’s Day. My daughters, my brother-in- laws, and I are all attuned to this bittersweet month of summer. His death is still a mystery in our hearts. It still stirs coals of hot loss and celebratory bonfires that carry sparks of memory up into the firmament. The Milky Way still glows, the dawn arrives with birdsong, the heat beneath the sun in a perfect blue sky exudes a lazy joy to the tune of lawnmowers and barking dogs. And wonder of wonders, Richard is still not here on this third anniversary of his birthday since his death.

Another member of my former tribe in New York state has died. Someone of my current tribe in Ohio dies almost every month. Kendal at Oberlin is a Continuing Care Retirement Community of over 350 folks, a CCRC. (In case you are looking at retirement communities, this is a good acronym to learn.) As one resident whispered to me in my first month here, “We come here to die.” That is so.

We also come to here to live our fullest lives until that event, and others have said to me, “Oh, I’ll never retire.” KAO is a dynamic interactive group of elders that fills an overflowing bowl of experiences and gifts that are generously shared in every aspect of human endeavors- scientists, mathematicians, political activists, professors and teachers of every stripe, working artists in every medium, therapists, ministers and more. Our evening programs (now shared on zoom or on our inhouse TV station initiated and created by our own tech people during the Covid19 lockdown) might present a trip to Amazonia showing the six orchids discovered and named after a resident, or clips of a professional canoeist and his white-water class five river rapid excursions on the Colorado River. Or there are recent performances of home grown plays, and musical offerings from a string quartet with a viola de gamba (played by the canoeist, also a former holistic chiropractor) to harpsichord concertos, to recorder ensembles. Another retired English teacher friend reads classic short stories at teatime on the TV channel once a month. Art shows adorn our walls and hallways. Small groups gather to their interests, and square dance, swim, paint, call local politicians, or meditate together. Regular committees run the business of Kendal in conjunction with staff and board members. It is a vibrant tribe that I have chosen to adopt as my home. Without Richard. This is my home.

That I can afford to be here in the Assisted Living wing is such a gift. It is certainly the high end of an eldering experience. Due to previous luck and hard work, I am grateful to be here every day. I can only wish that someday, my life will not be such an exclusive one- that our culture will look to support everybody’s gathered years of wisdom and contributions as we pass the baton on to the next generations. It is also part of KAO’s plan that we are close in every way to Oberlin College and that we have a preschool Children’s Learning Center housed within our campus. We have the opportunity to exchange our lives with all ages. We trek our past journeys with them and envision new ones that we will not live to see completed.

I have mentioned our weekly Song Swap led by my friend, Judy Cook, a working professional folksinger. We also share a smaller Ballad Song Night every other week. Our definition of a ballad is broad and so I wrote this quirky song celebrating Life/Death with Ballad Night in mind. I’ll sing it to our crew next week and see how it goes over before I dare sing it at Song Swap which is broadcast to the whole community. Since there is a large diversity of beliefs, religions, and atheists at KAO, I wanted to find a way to express my own values in language that remains inclusive when addressing death, which flowers quietly in my June heart.





Cosmic Dust                            by Judi Bachrach 5/31/21

One of these days I’m gonna close my eyes

for me that day, the sun won’t rise

but for you, the sun, will go, right on shining

Clouds will come and clouds will go

some cry rain and some cry snow

we search, to find, any kind of-silver lining

Chorus:

We are made of cosmic dust

just like our shining star

When we die- look to the light

that’s who and what we are

Dust to dust- light to light

that’s who and what we are

The sun shines down on everyone

saints and sinners, old and young

We all, tumbled out, of the same pocket

Now I hardly leave the ground

I used to fly all around

inside, my very own- human rocket

Chorus:

I was born to live, I was born to die

I was born to keep on asking why

The answer comes- find your joy, in love

Everything else, does not last

I learned that slow, I learned that fast

Joy shines, on earth, same as- the sun above

Chorus:

Between our first and final breath

Sing of life and sing of death

Find delight in every song we sing

Make a joyful noise when it’s time to go

Sing high and sweet, sing soft and low

Become the bell to swell your heart- to ring

Chorus:

We are made of cosmic dust

just like our shining star

When we die- look to the light

that’s who and what we are

Dust to dust- light to light

that’s who and what we are

Dust to dust, light to light

that’s who and what we are

Paying Attention

Diary 2/8/21

January was a tumultuous month for all of us, roiling through anxiety, disgust, sorrow, and glimmers of relief with hope against hope underlying everything. I wrote often but nothing seemed to capture more than a snapshot before the next event swept in. This song emerged last month which becomes relevant as the second impeachment trial dawns.

Healing America’s Trust

Chorus:

I need a healing of my heart

healing of my heart

healing of my heart

as I start to trust again

I need a healing of my heart

healing of my heart

healing of my heart

as I start

I knew from the beginning

that the man was just a sham

he wanted us to follow

like a wolf or like a lamb

He tried to crush what we believe in

there’s so much to answer for

only now we can begin to heal our grieving

Chorus:

America will recover

from its terrible mistakes

we will endure and do the work

however long it takes

His shadow is a dark one

but his sun is fading fast

his power will soon wither

and its’ grip can never last

Chorus:

The deaths that happened on his watch

will weigh his memory down

his cruelty and lies

touched every city, every town

America was never his

to hold under a thrall

instead, we choose democracy for all

Chorus:

I need a healing of my heart

healing of my heart

healing of my heart

as I start to trust again

I need a healing of my heart

healing of my heart

healing of my heart

as I start

Segway: To the tune of America the Beautiful

The words they wrote

So long ago

Now let us make them real

Freedom and equality

Are more than some ideal

America, America

We place our trust in you

And crown your good

with brotherhood

to make those words come true

February will continue to bring major weather systems for our political, internal, and external viewing endurance. And still our private dramas are played out against these scenarios. My grandson thrives at 13 months, my body inexplicably seems to be in a new recovery mode of muscles and endurance, and Kendal at large continues to be blessed with cooperative residents and staff with most everybody vaccinated and fewer and fewer cases of Covid detected in the twice-weekly testing for residents in my area of the Care Center (no cases detected) and all staff (still a few of whom are sent home to quarantine in each cadence). Disinformation affects some staff and vendors- this is Ohio- but for the most part, everyone is vigilant, proactive, and weary but willing.

I find my spiritual practices strengthening along with my body muscles. I am more grounded, and more able to take space from riding the dramatic roller coasters of my world. I wrote this first thing this morning.

Paying Attention to Breath

2/8/21

From the first mewling breath

my daughter took

after her difficult passage to birth

Through the last crackling breath

my husband took

in his long passage to death

To every one of my approximately

16 inhales per minute

18,00 exhales per day

I find a miraculous beginning,

middle and end

autonomous yet

The connecting thread of my life

to your life

to all life

Pay attention to your breathing

my teachers have always said-

singing, archery, meditation, life

The awesome invisible order of the universe

is passing through us, is us

in and out

In and Out

New Year

2020-2021

Begin Again

The tick of a clock

the ring of a bell

the gasp and sigh of a ventilator

the mask on a face

zooming with colleagues

family and friends

listening breathing uncertainty

violence disbelief and fear

366 days to spin and slow dance

our way

around the sun

only to arrive

at where we may begin again

The plunge of vaccinating needles
the need to be whole
new ways to love and work
together in
bearing such loss
taking responsibility
picking up the joyful burden
listening breathing creation
belief in helping healing learning

366 days to spin and slow dance

our way

around the sun

only to arrive

at where we may begin

again

by Judi Bachrach

Winter Solstice

The Solstice is upon us. Here we have the shortest day and longest night, and in the Southern Hemisphere, the opposite. It is another opportunity to remember humility as we are such a small part of the cosmic dance. A time for reflection of changes and anticipation of a new more hopeful year. May we find our place of strength and wholeness.

I include the poems (the second one is a chant) that were used in the Winter Solstice program on Thursday night shown on our in-house TV channel. I was humbled to be a small part of an hour long sharing of Kendal residents who recited poetry, sang songs, played a piano, clarinet, viola trio, a harpsichord piece, clarinet duets, string ensembles, all on the theme of darkness into light conceived and narrated by our talented Master of Ceremonies. The audio visual man became a videographer, elegantly blending all of these prerecorded contributions into an elegant whole using Rebecca Cordozo’s nature slides as they emerged and faded while we listened,

Beauteous Dark

I crave the dark

my gaze slides inward

beneath the fluttering curtains of day

oceans of sound cease

to pour into my seashell ears

my powers of speech

lie nestled within my sheltering jaw

In that beauteous dark

my breath expands

a small sliver of a new moon

curves its way between my lips

I am

constant as the moon

appearing and disappearing

waxing and waning

silently reflecting the light

I draw SO CLOSE

That my gravity alone

changes the tides on Earth

In the Dark Before the Dawn

In the dark

before the dawn

when I’m wandering all alone

may I search for

may I find

a light to guide me home

hold to that light

through the long night

until my eyes

bless the sunrise

In the dark

before the dawn

when we’re wandering 

all alone

may we search for

may we find

a light to guide us home

hold to that light

through the long night

until our eyes

bless the sunrise

Morning After Winter Solstice

The silent dawn

may be draped in snow

sunstruck into crystalline radiance

leaving tracks of those who

walked

before us

If I could paint

I would brush the snow

a gray shade of lavender

beneath the trees

blue behind the buildings

gold in the clearing

If I could sing

I would give voice to arias

of slender winter birds

icing over the ponds

the cushioning crunch of snow

beneath my boots

If I could write as simply as the

four-leggeds

the muskrat journal would read,

“I slide down the bank into cold waters”

or in squirrel script,

“I leapt here onto the tree before you”

or in deer tongue,

“We grazed branch tips before moving

on”

I would paint and sing and write

I am here

I breathe

I smell

I see

I listen

I taste

I touch the dawn

Ah!

Giving Thanks

Diary 11/24/20

I was thinking about gratitude as I often do. This season especially requires a deeper look in the face of what we have lost. I am grateful that my family remains perfectly well despite one positive Covid test result among us that canceled our “safe as possible” gathering for the holidays. I have suggested to past clients that they keep a Gratitude Jar for the year, writing down each incident that stands out, storing them all to reread on January first. Or to write down at least one thing you are grateful for every day for a week or a month. It is a wonderful practice. If you are as good as I am at envisioning the worst, as if a ‘superstition of pessimism’ can control the future, then it is a practical way to reroute your focus to looking instead at all of the things you are fortunate to experience in your life.

I am reminded of my own revelation of the unexpected gratitude that poured into me after the gripping grief at my husband’s death. Living as I do in a continuing care retirement community, death will claim some of us over the course of a year. On Sunday, we had a beautifully prerecorded memorial for all seventeen people who had left us without the usual in-person caring circle of family and friends from both within and outside of Kendal. We would have listened, told stories, and shared time with children and grandchildren to honor each life that had departed. It has been a unique Kendal tradition since its founding.

Yesterday’s skilled collaboration of histories, photos, and music was a tribute to the gifted adaptation of a memorial service in these times. As one community leader said in the presentation, “We wish we had known of their amazing history before they died. But truthfully, we didn’t because we knew them as the amazing people they were as active members of Kendal, and not for who they were before they came.”

The gratitude that filled me after processing my initial grief as a widow, came when the focus shifted naturally to the abundant riches my husband and I had shared and the evident fruits of our long life together. Missing him and our family holiday events touch me today, but they do not take center stage. My personal list of gratitude notes from last week include:

Thanks for my family and new and old friends.

Thanks for the cyber connections that have blossomed during our separations, including taking classes I could otherwise not have physically attended.

Thanks for the fact that I am not struggling for my daily survival as millions do but have the luxury of seeing my life and spiritual practice as one.

There are so many ways to show my gratitude and I have the rest of my life to do so.

Grief and Gratitude

Grief and Gratitude walked hand in hand

between the sand dunes

down to the beach

The sun just above the horizon

the sea was calm

the tide was slowly rising

They passed a young couple

and caught waves of

Gratitude for their new love

blind as yet to Grief

new rays glowing in their eyes

The wet packed sand

firm beneath their soles

leading them on and on

past so many human

pleasures and pains

the heat of our star

upon their heads

cool waters

washing over and over their feet

A thoughtful mother watched

her younger daughter squeal in outraged Grief

when the highest wave flooded

her sandy creation

the older brother smirking on higher ground

anticipating relentless change

the mother hoping

they would also come to know Gratitude

for this interlude of pleasure

and sleep on the way back

her husband packing up the car

for their inevitable sad return

Grief and Gratitude walked on and on

turned to face the setting sun

skirting rocks and seaweed

gulls watching from above

breezes carrying the day into night

A white-haired man, sitting alone

reaching for the last of his six-pack

the bitter taste of Grief and rage

alone without her for the rest of his life

he could not see Gratitude

the sunset glaring in his eyes

Grief and Gratitude

always linked

in silent embrace

resting on the shores of Home

walking with us

all of our days and nights

11/24/20 Judi Bachrach

Fire

Fire

8/25/20 For all of my dear friends in California

They just heard

their house was spared

others still do not know

down the mountain

even the city is threatened

ashes ashes ashes

another lightning storm

a shift of the wind

What would you choose

to save at a moment’s notice?

New Year

Whatever your plans or non plans for this liminal space between the out breath of 2019 and the in breath of 2020, I hope this transition brings new hope and blessings for you. Personally I am amazed to find I have had two major surgeries this year and am in recovery as a grandmother with a marvelous grandson. Further, I am continuing to find love and healing in this unique community of Kendal at Oberlin and have so much gratitude for this unexpected life gift.

(The poem ends with a quote from Julian of Norwich, 1342- c. 1416)

Year’s End

                        Judi Bachrach

Solar radiation lights up

the comet’s streaming tail

an arc of ice and dust

a year strewn with

garbage and creation

wounds and healing

grief and joy

fragility and strength

to paint the world around

with exquisite experience

embracing our humanity

enduring life to shine light

no matter the source

we are called to celebrate

what was, what is, and what will be in equal measure

may your year bear fruition

of all your yet unknown dreams

“…and all manner of things shall be well.”

Fusteration and Surrender

Diary 7/22/19

Last Night I Prayed for Mercy

I drop my small diamond

into the overflowing

cup of your hands

I drink to the Light

so my eyes can see

I drink to Love

so my heart can feel

to know

how to live

as above so below

as within so without

this one world.

My back is very unstable. I believe it is my stenosis at L 4-5 (compressed spinal cord in lumbar region due to vertebral collapse and bone spurs) and spondylolisthesis (overlapping slippage of those two discs) that causes radiating nerve pain. Sleep was at a minimum again last night as there is no single position that is stress-free for very long. This morning my PT asked what position I sleep in. I answered that I am in rotisserie mode with a pillow that travels from beneath my knees while on my back, to between my knees lying on either side, to beneath my chest when flat on my stomach. No position is comfortable for long, and releasing my already weak muscle tone during sleep leaves me in rough shape upon awakening.

Fortunately, napping is available at any time that I am free and I do manage to catch up. By day and by night, I take my mild pain or sleep meds and herbs, as stronger ones affect me very badly the next day. I manage enough sleep overall, but at night, sometimes prayer is called for. The earnest act itself helps, and I do sleep intermittently as a consequence of the soothing effects. Last night’s petition stayed with me all day and showed up on this page.

I have upcoming appointments with my nuerologist and my spinal surgeon in August. Hopefully they will concur as to what is happening and what to do about it.

Meanwhile I am in fine spirits. People always ask the inevitable “How are you?” and I say, “I am fine, but my back isn’t.” “But you look so good!” I thank them and I know that I am still walking taller and more naturally for short distances, due to the success of the first operation. If I sit for too long, or walk as far as I used to ( just two months ago), my back is on fire with inflammation and I must lie down. As my daughter used to say, “I am fusterated!” with how limited my mobility is once more. Perhaps my condition will remain as it is or perhaps it will improve. I will continue to surrender as best I can while strongly advocating for more intervention.

“I drop my small diamond

into the overflowing

cup of your hands…”

On Waking

 

Diary 2/27/19

On Waking at 5:30 a.m.

I can just reach the curtain

in my rehabilitation room.

Pulling it back revealed

the setting moon.

She has always been there

but I just discovered her

low in the sky this morning.

I placed her waning crescent

in my paper cup chalice

and drank deep.

She soothes, sings, patiently

healing with every swallow

four scrimshaw carved bones in my neck.

The pictures there

now covered with metal plates

held by screws,

tell the story of a spinal cord

just freed

from years of slow strangulation.

Movement is painful

joyful

miraculous

rediscovering like the moon

a dance that has always been there

patiently waiting,

pulling back the curtain on a new stage.

 

I am moving back to my room tomorrow morning. The euphoria of sparking new connections has passed into the reality of honoring how atrophied so many muscles are and committing to the year of hard work before me. It is a good thing that I am a stubborn willful woman (OK, persevering and courageous on alternate Wednesdays). Thanks to you all for your ongoing support.

 

A Room for the End of Days

It is a dreary fall day that feels like November already but without my former northeast reference points of snow sprinkled mountaintops already stripped of leaves. The smell here is different- the species of leaf rot is not the same. Nostalgia is an inherent aspect of the season and next week our clocks will ‘fall back’. Barely gray by 6:00 a.m., now it will be black, both early and late. The days of rising under the stars as they finished their wheel over the barn are long gone, as are mornings of feeding the animals, coming in to rouse the girls, the bustle of breakfasts, packing lunches, remembering homework projects and backpacks, dropping them off for their ride to school, Richard bidding me farewell as he drove off to work in the city or finishing his last cup of coffee as he went into his home office. Me; I’d go off to my own office after finishing the breakfast dishes, and putting in a load of laundry to run while I gave sessions, too.

Now those two grown women rise to their own days to lead their own lives. Richard is altogether gone from the world of time and seasons, leaving me to remember that the world turns without him. I lead my own life in my small hamlet of the Care Center within the larger town of over 300 Kendal residents, along with the hundred daily commuters of nurses, social workers, PT’s, OT’s, carers, and the staff, from administrators, to cooks, to laundry workers, who run this sprawling organization. My first winter without Richard is coming. The first Thanksgiving is almost here. The first Christmas will be just me and my younger daughter, Marion, together at Kendal while my older daughter, Emilia, and her husband, Zoran, will go to Texas to be with Zoran’s sister, mother and their many friends from their school days.

I let the movies in my mind play out and then I am quiet. Empty. At first it is painful and lonely. Then there is a rush of gratitude for exactly how things are. Emilia sent me the sweetest text saying she wished I lived even closer than the 40 minutes distance between her home and mine. There might have been time for a quick morning hug before she dove back into grading papers. Sitting in my chair for a while longer, I meditate in the silent moment of no season, no loss, no gain, and feel the relief of Being, shedding ownership of anything at all. I arise opened and internally still.

After breakfast, I am going to listen to a radio program with my friend down the hall. This is partly to share the pleasure of her company and partly it is an ongoing ploy to convince her cat that I am no longer her evil assailant. For a while, I helped her owner subdue the flailing paws, and opened Miss Kitty’s reluctant sore mouth in order to administer antibiotics. She doesn’t run as far away from me as last week, but is still no where near to happily accepting grooming and petting from me as she used to. We figure the more I come and just sit quietly, the more she will accept me as her non-enemy. I am fine with however long it takes. She is a survivor, this rescue cat, and her instincts have served her well. My identity as a safe lap will come again in her time.

Big news! for me is that I am moving down the hall permanently into a new room. In a few weeks they will have repainted the walls and refurbished the floor. The former occupant, who I only got to know briefly before she died, had the room painted a bright “Goldfinch” yellow orange. Since the room gets little direct sun, I actually liked it a lot. Once I spent some time time in there looking around, I instead chose “Forsythia” from the paint samples. Imagining some of the artwork I own on the walls seemed to need a little less red in the paint, though I will keep the small kitchenette the color it is. Yes, I will have a small fridge, sink, and cabinets which will help me to attend to my dietary needs going forward. The new room is much larger, has storage space under the window seat, an additional window and closet, and the bathroom is not a hospital bathroom, but also is bigger and has a vanity with drawers. It is painted a deep lavender and I will keep it that same luscious color.

When Kendal was founded 25 years ago, there was no such concept as assisted living. The wing with larger rooms designated for this new category was added around 5 years ago. The room I am currently in is a very nice for a hospital room, but without storing things at E&Z’s house, there is no way I could have brought all of my meager possessions with me. Exactly because I do not have seniority (I am now the third youngest resident at Kendal), the Powers That Be determined I should have the larger room because it will be my home for longer than other candidates. The former resident of my new room certainly had seniority once she moved from her apartment into the Care Center and was a well known musical member of the community. She sadly died about a month or so after she had moved in.

None of us can know when or where we will enter our last days, but surely this new room will be my final home. It is sobering to consider and also inspires a moment of gratitude; to have landed safely, and to be well cared for. I believe that Richard would be very pleased that his loving care baton has been passed into the right hands.