Sacred Spaces

Holding the Center in the Widening Gyre

I slept soundly during last night’s violent thunderstorm, not knowing until this morning—with his telling me—of R.’s leaving our bed at 1:20 a.m. to determine if the downpour had turned to hail. In my background awareness of the wild weather, my subconscious had a solipsistic thought, which emerged as a fragment of a remembered dream when I awoke: This storm is so powerful, it might knock the earth off its axis.

My brother put our mother’s house on the market this week, empty of all her things, of everything, patched and painted, lightened and brightened for the listing photos; since then, I have tracked the comings and goings of realtors and potential buyers parking in her driveway, walking through her echoic rooms. The proceeds from the sale will provide for her continuing care as her Alzheimer’s progresses. R.’s childhood home also sold a few months ago (after his parents’ passing last year), the buyer effecting extensive renovations, then flipping it: Both our sets of teacher parents’ lifelong and hard-won efforts to secure a place in the world for themselves and their children converted to cash, diluted by division and diversion, what they wanted for us and what we wanted for them not going quite as imagined or idealized.

Two of my sisters (the three of us in first, second, and third birth orders of the six children in my family of origin) and I had a pre-birthday/Mother’s Day weekend lunch yesterday, and our time together filled me with joy, their beauty and beings, their presence in my life a constant from the time I was almost three years old, my earliest solid memory the day my first sister/sibling was born. Later in the day, P. and I visited Mom at her care home, ostensibly to attend with her the fancy Mother’s Day tea, but actually, as it turned out, to sit at her bedside in her studio apartment and to listen to and love her sleepy self, our conversation looping and circling in sometimes dizzying spirals, her gaze on us sweet and soft and smiling.

In less than two weeks, I board a plane and depart my adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, for the 3,437 mile +/- journey to Skagway, Alaska, the place of my first through twelfth grades, my childhood and adolescence, where my parents first landed in 1972 to “escape the rat race,” showing up bearded (my dad) and waist-length braided (my mom), driving a light blue Ford Econoline van with flowers (truly) painted on the sides. It has been 41 years since I flew away for college from the tiny town (then with a permanent population of 750 residents, now grown to 1,217), 41 years since I’ve returned, even to the state. When I left, my father was 41 years old and my mother 37; they and the rest of my family sailed away a few months after I did in 1982 (and the circumstances of that are an entire other story). This summer—and so soon!—I’ll first be attending a long weekend of the North Words Writers Symposium, then be six weeks in residency at Alderworks Alaska Writers and Artists Retreat—and I feel lucky and in awe and anticipatory of this return, revisitation, renewal.