Friday, December 31, 2010

Being of Earth, Being of Sky

[Damian and Great-Gramma]

I am the plodding matriarch,
bowed down under the weight
of my decades,
the weight
of those who press me
to carry the burdens
they don't want to carry.
I am the vast and unrestricted
being of light,
born in a thousand galaxies,
made up of particles of stardust,
strong with the wisdom of the ages,
and able to bear all burdens.

I am tired
with the accumulation
of decades of unremitting effort
gone largely unnoticed.
My body falters
on unsteady legs
that collapse
under me
when I walk too far.
I need a cane and,
on some days,
a scooter.
I refuse both.
I keep on walking.

I am alive with
the energy of the sun,
fanned by the wings
of a thousand fairies.
In the light of the morning,
I rise and traverse the heavens,
like an orb,
like a daytime moon,
like a trajectory
of shimmering radiance,
a prism refracting
through the everness of time.

I climb into bed each night
grateful for rest.
I climb out each morning
alive with
the possibilities
of the day.
I keep breathing.
Each breath,
each new morning,
is a gift
for which
I stay
immensely grateful.
The burdens
are not the journey,
just the accessories
to the journey.
The journey is
the Keeping On.
The journey is the
Staying Grateful.
The journey is
Being Alive.

The body
houses the spirit.
The spirit
fuels the body.
The body walks;
the spirit flies Above.
It flies Beyond.
Spirit knows
where we are going.
Nothing earthbound
can stop its flight
our refusal
to fly.

It's a Gulag Out There, Charlie Brown!

[Stephanie's Window]

Outside for three days in a row, the gray winter pall that hangs over this valley lifted off and we have had blue skies and sunshine, which lift the spirits, but bring very frigid temperatures. No snow yet, but frost so thick that it looks like a light layer of snow. My wolf dog is relishing the coldness. I am too, but comfortably indoors, in fleece lounging pajamas.

I am waiting till the celebrations start, around the world, hoping the far side of the world begins early enough for me to catch some of the displays before inevitably I am too tired and have to totter off to bed.

It is the last day of this year, which has been a hard year in many ways. But was a year which also brought me this wonderful world of blogging, of belonging to a fantastically talented and creative community of poets, something my life here sadly lacked till I found all of you.

To each one of you who has visited my blog and left kind and encouraging comments, and to each one of you whom I have visited and will continue to visit in the new year, I want to express my profound gratitude at how you helped  to reawaken my writing life, which had been hibernating, and for stimulating me with your voices, your amazing writing, and the back and forth give and take which just means the world to a writer, without which I stagnate. Each one of you has re-energized and breathed new life into my writing - and my life - and "thank you" is not big enough for what this means to me.

I look forward to some great writing - and some great reading - from all of us in the new year.

Wishing you all good things in 2011. You made 2010 a watershed year for me:)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bird Woman

[image from google images]

Bird Woman sits
in the mouth
of the cave.
It is all
jagged stumps
before her.
Vultures are perched
on the tops
of the scrags
fixing her
in their beady eyes.

There are no nightingales
in her world.
It is all stark and bare,
and no soft notes sing.
But when
Sister Wolf howls
in the deep dark
of a lonely midnight,
her heart rises
in response
to her music.

Her head falls back.
From her throat
comes a raw
and piercing cry.
She is keening;
for what
is she keening?

What to do
with this
of wanting
brute survival?

She feels the prescience
of Something More
winging on the air,
but does not yet
have a name
for this longing.

[tapped into my Inner Cave Woman
for this one, kids. And she feels pretty darn familiar:)]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Jeff Siddhartha Crazy Horse Marr~Wielder of Words
Well, folks, a lesson in Seeing What is Around me come home to roost. I woke up this morning playing with the word Gratitude,  my mind of course going off into blue skies, and the sun shining - which it is today, after far too many days of lowering gray or no sky at all, only rain.

Then I came online and clicked around to find some beautiful new offerings from this community of poets I love so much.

When I clicked on my daughter Lisa's  site, I was totally floored at just how much talent there is in our family. Of course I have encouraged and supported Jeff's talent for decades......and have been loving Lisa's emerging poetry and prose.....but this Christmas, Jeff presented his sister Lisa with a print of Van Gogh's Starry Starry Night AND accompanied it with a poem for her, likening her to the Starry Night. Perhaps his most beautiful poem of all.

Musician Tyler Barnes - you will be hearing about him!

Under that post is a photograph of Lisa's canaries, who were eaten by her cat on Monday. These sweet-sounding singing little birds meant a great deal to Lisa, reflecting memories of love, and she was very upset about losing them. Her oldest son, Tyler, went home from work that night and composed the most hauntingly beautiful song about them. The link to the song is also on her site and I just clicked on it and listened. I am in awe. Tyler's music is very alternative full of sound effects, and I cant put my finger on  what it reminds me of.......sometimes a hint of Pink Floyd, sometimes - this song especially -  undertones of the Beatles. The song for the canaries has a repeating refrain that is absolutely Elizabethan. Incredibly beautiful, composed by a kid living in a basement suite, working at 7-11, trying to stay alive in the mean streets of the city.

Wow. So much talent all around. Wonderful to watch as it runs down through the generations and adds something with each. I am very proud of my grandsons - they have grown up with little in the way of material goods. But this has developed in them a readiness for reality that many more affluent kids miss out on. They also are the most polite, appreciative and sensitive kids I know - and with the most open minds, and original thinking. They do not have a pack mentality, they think for themselves and I think that is what I am most proud of.

So I slapped myself upside the head and wondered why I was looking outside to find things to be grateful for when, right within my family, we have people who write, who compose classical music, and alternative music, works of amazing sensitivity and beauty. Who have wonderful shining whole and inclusive hearts, wonderful senses of humor, and gratitude for the things in life that are beyond price.

Our family has had a lot of challenges. Many of us have suffered a lot, in finding our way through this life. But there have been so many gifts that have accompanied the challenges: gifts of growth, of communication, of acceptance, of unconditional love, of laughter, and of gratitude. Over time, we came to recognize that  the group of souls who clustered together in this family this lifetime  are absolutely meant to be together. The most talented among us live in  poverty. Yet, with very little in the way of finances or equipment, they tap the incredibly rich and deep wells of talent  within them,  creating works of lasting and amazing beauty. Jeff and Tyler are  two such artists.

So they are my pick for Gratitude today:)

The link to this post is here, if you wish to read a wonderful poem.On the right, click on Lost Two Babies, and listen to an exquisitely, hauntingly  beautiful song:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


[image from by the Friends of Clayoquot Sound]

Hi kids. 

I am laid flat by exhaustion, from the build-up and energy expended to get ready for Christmas, the intensity and pace of the event itself, and the clean-up after.

Christmas has whapped me upside the head.

I feel like a felled ox, lying stunned in a field somewhere,
wondering what happened.

I try to formulate thoughts.
It's a no-go.
I fall back asleep.

Did someone cast a spell on me?
Did I bite into the Wrong Apple?

I have deadlines to meet and things I want to post.
I keep waiting to feel up to it.

Soon, kids.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Gathering of the Clan

[My sister, Lori, took most of these photos. I took a couple of sneak
ones - the unposed ones I will be hearing about once this gets posted:)]

Blakey was getting all ready for everyone to arrive.......but his hat wouldnt stay on.
They arrived in batches, Steph and Gord and their three dogs first. Pup and Jas were excited to have company. Pup managed the excitement better than I had feared; there were no growls or dog fights.......not much sleeping either, though, as anytime anyone moved, my two would expect to be taken out to pee, no matter the hour. Gord, who is over six feet tall, found my futon too short and narrow to allow him to get much sleep.
"Next time, a motel!" he intoned.

Once we all fell asleep Christmas Eve, it was hard to wake up fully when Jon, Zenny and Jeff arrived before midnight.

However, we got even next morning when dogs were wanting to go Out, smokers needed to go out on the porch for a smoke, and those of us awake annoyed those sleeping in
with our cackles.
Jon: "I could hear you cackling like maniacs out there this morning!"
More cackles.

Jeff makes every Christmas wonderful. Since he was a little guy, he has always been so vocally appreciative of every gift, so grateful and overwhelmed with the richness of it all, flinging himself into the arms of whoever has gifted him,  it makes it all so heartwarming.

He affords us much laughter too, as he makes statements like, "I may get a job soon. But not for a while......I'm beginning to enjoy my leisure time." And when we all laugh, he adds, "Well, it took me eighteen years to get to this point!"

He got a duvet, two fluffy pillows and a duvet cover for Christmas, along with a warm soft robe. When he opened his personal dvd player, he was totally amazed and said, "I'll never have to get out of bed again!"

When Lori gifted him with a monitor for his computer, he was floored. "I'm so happy, I'm sad," he said, his heart full. He is still the same kid he was when he flung himself across the room into my arms when he was eleven, when I gave him something he especially had wanted.

It rained buckets Christmas Eve and Christmas Day which meant very wet dogs tracking in and out. When Jon and Zenny decided to go see the wild river (at the very top of its banks these days) at Stamp Falls, Lori loaned him a West Coast hat to keep his head somewhat dry.
I insisted on a photo!

 Zenny is so homesick for the Island, she badly wants to come home.
I hope they return soon. It is hard seeing them so rarely.
There's work on the Island, Jon!

Lisa is looking especially stunning, and is so happy, strong and in tune with
her intuitive wisdom these days.
I am very proud of the journey she has made and I look forward to watching good things
happen to her in the coming year.

Here are Steph and Gord: this is my new son, who is making Steph a happy girl this year.
Gord is the man I have waited a long time to show up in Steph's life.
I love him already. And it feels so right, it is like he has always been here.
It was total immersion for Gord: the whole fam damily, and he was
still smiling when they left. He didnt head for the hills. So it looks like he's here to stay!
That's a good thing. We all think he is The Best!

The Big Four
Lisa, Jon, Steph and Jeff
Every time we are all in the same place at the same time,
which happens only every few years, I insist upon this photo being taken to record
the passing of the years.

Hmmmm........out of the fourteen people present, seven of them were there because
I wanted to be a mother............and there are more, who werent there:)
Pretty amazing.

Here we are with my sister, Lori, in the center - who made Christmas
so wonderful for all of us. Lori was extremely generous to everyone, and she cooked
like a slave,
both the Christmas feast and a huge big Boxing Day breakfast this morning.
We helped, but she and Warren, her man, really did a heroic amount of work.
Somehow we missed him in the photos, will add him in when Lori sends me a photo.

Lisa with her brilliant and talented (and very handsome!) boys, Tyler, Caleb and Josh.

Great-grandson, Damian, in his new hockey gear,
that Auntie Lori gave him for Christmas.


On Boxing Day, morning came early, thanks to dogs wanting Out.
It came when it was still dark,  and when I looked out
and saw Steph and Gord out on the porch, smoking,
I had to take a photo.
Steph, ("NODDA Baby!") is not impressed.

Jeff, even less so:) Pup hid out on the porch much of the time.
But he got along with all of the dogs very well. At fourteen,
right before The End, he has finally mellowed!

Boxing Day morning required a lot of coffee.

and a fair bit of snoozing,
for the dogs, at least!

After everyone left, I spent the day putting my house back together
and wiping dog hair off of just about everything.

Both dogs are exhausted and Jasmine is limping.
She overdid it, with all the excitement
and the vet is once again going to be not very happy
about it. She was to be IMMOBILE till her next vet visit,
but that was impossible, given Christmas visitors.

Likely one MORE month of immobility ahead to once again try to repair the damage.

However, it was a wonderful, heartwarming Christmas.
Great to get everyone together,
to share all the laughs, some memories,
blend new people into the horde.

To dream about the Tomorrows ahead
and all of the delights that are still in store
for the young people
and thus, vicariously, for me.

I hope all of you had wonderful family gatherings,
as well. I missed my online friends while I was doing Real Life -
I look forward to a LOT of writing and reading
in the year ahead.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Open Road

[image from google images]

Last night I read late, late, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, by Pico Iyer. A few thoughtful quotes from this very interesting book, which is an inside look into the Dalai Lama's life. The quotes are Pico's reflections as he meets with and sometimes travels with the Dalai Lama, based on his observations and conversations with the Tibetan leader.

Everything changes, falls away, dies....yet everything comes back again, and change itself is a kind of constancy. Life, as some Buddhists have it, is 'a joyful participation in a world of sorrows'. The mind [is] something that we [have] the potential to transform. So too, therefore, [is] the world that the mind created.

Recent research.....suggest[s] that those who score high on tests for happiness live longer than others, in part because happiness is a function not so much of our circumstances as of our perceptions. People who win the lottery often profess themselves no better off than before--they dont know who their friends are, they feel uincomfortable in their new posh neighborhoods, they spend all their time with lawyers; yet others, who are suddenly rendered paraplegic, after roughly a year of adjustment, confess themselves really no worse off than before. The mind, as Milton puts it at the beginning of Paradise Lost "can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."

The Buddhist talks not so much about good and evil, as about ignorance and awakening.....he brings all responsibility see how he can better understand and resolve the problem within.

The Dalai Lama....exult[s] in meeting people from different traditions....and seeing what they have in common beneath their designations.

Where the Christian believes in transcendence of everyday life, through finding a higher life in God, the Buddhist generally believes in the transformation of it, by finding the better life in the here and now.

Very interesting reading, and easy to grasp for the Western reader.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Night Before Christmas at My House

[written for the Poets United Thursday Think Tank prompt: stockings]

The stockings aren’t hung.

It should be no surprise.
In today’s economy,
Santa has to downsize.

The Walmart shoppers
have slowed to a trickle.
If you’re not done by now,
you’re in a real pickle.

Jeff crashes in and out
to the front porch to smoke.
Jon groans:
“Trying to sleep
in this house is a joke”

In the living room Steph and Gord,
tucked in their bed,
watch dreams of a night’s sleep
die in their head.

Jeff’s back! Reaching for
the doorknob with glee.
Five dogs raise their heads:
“Oh, it’s time to go pee!”

Walking dogs in the dark,
I fall in the ditch.
This Christmas gig
can be a real b-tch!

Mother Hubbard arrives
to prepare the big feast.
How’ll she ever turn
lentils and beans
to Roast Beast?

Old Dog thinks he’s died
and gone straight to Dog Hell,
and his owner suspects
she has gone there as well.

Sixteen humans
are coming for dinner
and bringing eight dogs.
Someone’s a real winner!

I’m the old woman
who lives in a shoe.
We’ll have to hang ‘em on pegs
or else go somewhere new.

Two hundred inches
of rain falling down:
Here’s hoping Santa
and his reindeer don’t drown.

I can make it till Christmas
is over, I think,
especially if you pour me
one more little drink ;)

A Word from Thay

[image from freebase]

Thich Nhat Hanh

Walk and touch peace every moment.

Walk and touch happiness every moment.

Each step brings a fresh breeze.

Each step makes a flower bloom.

Kiss the Earth with your feet.

Bring the Earth your love and happiness.

The Earth will be safe

when we feel safe in ourselves.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bag Lady Who Haunts My Dreams

[image from]
She was sitting on the pavement
on a small square of blanket
at the corner of Granville and Georgia.
Ringing her little bell,
she chanted ceaselessly,
She was at least eighty years old,
and it was January cold.

I came to a full. stop.
Fumbling in my bag,
I pulled out a twenty.
It was not nearly enough
to solve this situation,
but it was what I could do,
right now.

As I bent to hand it to her,
her eyes lit up
in disbelief, in joy.
Twenty dollars would buy
something warm to drink,
something to eat,
maybe a treat.
Unexpected wealth
in a life of
bare day-to-day

"Oh, thank you, my dear!"
her small hand, like a claw,
holding my wrist.
She tried to give me her watch.
Gently, I declined.

I looked into her eyes
and felt fear.
Was I looking at
my own future?
I am always only
a few hundred dollars
from the streets.
But I have people
who would not
abandon me.

What was she doing
in her eighties
sitting on the cold
winter pavement,
watching all the legs
passing by?

Why was she not in
a warm facility,
being brought cups of tea
and muffins?
Where was the System,
that left her sitting here?

And where were her people?
Once she was beloved,
with a husband and a home,
with things she dusted,
with tables and chairs,
and warm beds.

What could I do,
to get her some help,
in town for only
this one day?
If I am not part of the solution,
I am part of the system
that leaves her sitting there,
on that cold pavement,
part of the System,
turning away,
moving past
the discomfort,
one more
set of legs
moving on.

Compassion in inaction,
in a world too unbalanced
to ever be set right.

As I walked away,
I could hear her,
still ringing her little bell:

I still see her face,
hear her little bell,
her voice ~ they haunt
my dreams.

On Equanimity

[image from]

"Upekkha. Upekkha.
The fourth of the
Four Divine Abidings.
To let be
what one must
let be."

I read these words in Karen Connelly's The Lizard Cage, the wonderfully well-written story of a Burmese Buddhist imprisoned in solitary confinement for years for composing songs against the country's oppressive military regime.

Equanimity. It seems a good word to ponder at this hectic time of year.

Let it Be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"There's a treat down in the toe............
can somebody give me a HAND????"

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Siddhartha

My son Jeff has always been the sweetest-natured and gentlest of souls. He has written some incredible poetry, and composed some amazing music over the years. Here are two that I love, from Jeff Siddhartha Crazy Horse Marr.

Goodbye little child I know
Love claims me and I must go.
I'll find out where my flowers grow
and let the naked seasons flow
through me.

Goodbye lawless rolling stream
Seven tears mend
for gathering.
New eyes find the dawn and sing
And let the sacred
dream to dream
in me.

My heart calls and I depart.
along a trail of innocence.

White Wings Are Another Word for Love

I'm the sweetest breath of life
I'm the white bird
the carriage of light
white wings of the world
enfold me as I fly
for the bounty
the bounty
of your beautiful eyes

I'm a dream of puffed clouds
over the sky
A marigold fragrance
song of the lyre

I'm the angel of loving
the tear of joy
the tear of pride
the sun in the sky
I laugh before wisdom
embrace without fear
and though far away
I will always be near

I'm the passion
grape of the vine
the radiant bliss
all innocence mine

I the wild wild land
where the deepening glows
of my spirit bestowed
gently sway in repose

I the sweet mist
on the river's bright clear
where the branches incline
I'm held ever dear

Soothe me sweet singers
bring soft tones around
Woo me so sweetly
with magical sound

Open your heart
as the bright treasure chest
that shines like a fire
fire out over the west

My song and my story
appear a bright jewel
Cast to your fountain
all those beautiful gems

Take it to your heart
where it blossoming may
awaken your heart
to its mythical day

Winter Beach~Solstice

Here is my beloved Chestermans Beach, in snow. That is Lone Cone in the background, on Meares Island, right across the harbour from the village centre. The winter I lived on the beach, my wooden cabin was just to the right, behind the dunes.

I stepped out every morning onto a beach which changed, in color, in sand formations sculpted by the tide, and in mood, so that no two times on the beach were ever the same. Beautiful always, and always something new to see.

I would look up and down the beach. Sometimes I would turn slooooooowly in a circle, viewing beauty for 360 degrees, with a smile of total joy and sustained disbelief that I was actually, finally, there. For ten years, I felt that joy, every single day. It never got old. I never took it for granted. It amazed me, hourly, and daily, until the day I left.

Snow was a rarity there, then. It would sometimes sprinkle down and stay for a few hours, then melt away.The climate was so mild, Tofino was often the "hot spot" of Canada on the evening news. Some days the rains lashed the cabin walls wildly. When forced to be out in it, rain slickers and rubber boots were absolutely vital; we walked bent over against the wind and rain, stamped into the Common Loaf bake shop, all heads looking up to see who entered, half a dozen smiles to greet you.

But some days were mild and warm.  I remember especially one sunny New Year's Day, my first one there, when I took my camera and wandered the beaches at Wickanninish and South Beach, dressed only in a sweatshirt and jeans, and more than warm enough.

Another time, at South Beach, I was there in storm, the waves roaring in sounding like jet planes, crashing against the huge standing rocks, and breaking over them with white froth.

Now everyone's climates are changing, everywhere. This is a colder winter than we are used to on the Island, but still a very far cry from the temperatures of the Prairies or the East, who are really getting hammered this year. I am grateful the ocean keeps our temperatures more moderate.

It was a spectacularly beautiful place. The village itself drew creative and alternative folk, so I was among my people there - painters, sculptors, writers, environmentalists, activists, photographers, musicians. First Nations and mumuklees (white people) shared the area amicably, in friendship. When you live right in nature like that, you truly feel as one with the universe and all of its creatures and components, the huge eco-system that sustains everything.

I remember one Winter Solstice, my first, attending a gathering where we faced the Four Directions and people spoke beautifully poetic prayers to the elements, and to the North, East, South and West Winds. Then a fire was lit and people jumped across the flames, to cross over. I was too shy, too afraid and likely too un-limber to jump. But I loved being there.

That Spring Solstice, I was one of a handful who gathered before dawn on Frank's Island, across the sandbar from my cabin. One fellow was putting the finishing touches on drawing a labyrinth in the sand for us to follow. A friend of mine came across the beach with her small son, carrying a paper torch, lit and glowing through the pre-dawn darkness. As we completed walking the labyrinth, as dawn was slowly filtering light across the sky, the tide was coming up and across our feet. We had to hurry before the water rose too high. We just made it across.

Sigh. The word "Solstice" takes me back to Tofino as that is what everyone observed there. It was out of the mainstream, away from the commercial frenzy of city Decembers. There, folks would gather some time around Christmas, and have a potluck. At some point, someone might bring in a branch of evergreen for the scent and, some hours later, take it back outside.

I so loved living there. My soul was absolutely in synch with that place. It was a beautiful ten years.

All the Christmases That Were

Stephanie, Jeff, Jon and Lisa

[I actually wrote this some years ago, but 'tis the season, so will post it here. Nostalgia all the way, kids!]

This year, for Christmas, I decided to make each of my four children an album of their childhood photos. I spent one evening on the floor, poring through my albums, revisiting those busy years which seem, in retrospect, to have flown by at the speed of light.

There were all their faces, alight with laughter. Kids playing, mugging for the camera, on jungle gyms, kids grinning out through tire-hole climbing structures, one face atop another, Baby Steph's at the bottom. (Steph's favorite saying in those years, "I'm NODDA Baby!") Lisa and Jeff, hanging upside down by one leg each from the metal bar. Jeff and Steph, upside down, butts to the camera, grinning at me through their legs. Jon with his first rocket, his new bike. Jeff and Steph, arms wrapped around each other, beaming. Jeff and Steph dancing, faces aglow with gaiety too great to contain. Lisa leaping into the air, her mouth square, shrieking her joy at getting the new clogs she wanted so badly. Jon fishing, hiking in the hills. Jon on a roughly made raft, poling up the lake in the dead of winter. Lisa cuddling a furry little pet under her chin, looking out at me with the same tender softness I see in her eyes now, cuddling her children and her kittens.

Jeff and Jon, plastic swords over their shoulders, marching to the Tolkien-like music we liked during the winters when my boys read Lord of the Rings over and over. Jeff, tongue hanging out comically, his head inside the mouth of the concrete Ogopogo statue in City Park, pretending he was being eaten by the monster.

All of us, up Knox Mountain, flying kites. All of us strung out in a row on bikes. All of us, having a winter picnic at Gyro Park, on ground white and frozen, grinning around our sandwiches.

And there were all the Christmases, when somehow, against all financial reality, magic happened in our living room, and the wee hours of Christmas morning resounded with happy shrieks and an orgy of gift-opening. Now, I dont know how I did it, but I remember my determination that, on that one day of the year, my kids would have everything they wanted. I was trying to make up for the daily reality of never enough money, never quite enough food, and all the times they wanted things in silence that they never asked for, because they knew our lack of money by the contents of our fridge.

That Christmas magic lasted until my children hit their teens, when our family hit rough waters for a time, as my children, like so many others in our culture,  explored drugs, alcohol and paths that took them away from me and any magic I might have available. As I looked at their shining pre-teen faces in their childhood photos, my throat closed over a massive lump.  Back then I could still afford some slight protection, or so I thought. I had not yet learned the most perilous years lay in wait, full of dangers far scarier than my childrens' worst childhood nightmares. We entered those years all unaware and unprepared, and none of us came out unchanged.

What the photographs don't show is the other side of Christmas, in the years when my heart was aching for my children, when I valiantly traveled from place to place among them, bright smiles and cheerful wrap belying the hidden pain, the unspoken words one or the other of us was not yet able to say. Christmas lost its magic for me in the years when one, then another child was away from home. And in the years when Jeff, who had been so sunny a youngster, made his lonely trek through the valley of despair.

I remember the Christmas concert just after one daughter left home too soon, and the depth of sadness in my heart as I watched the two children who were still with me, up on the stage, the sweet sound of children singing piercing me through like a lance. Another year, another Christmas, and Jeff, wan and pale, fragile and shaky, singing, "If I were a swan, I'd be gone," me encouraging his talent and brilliance, at the same time trying to anchor him to this earth he had such a fragile hold upon.

Some Christmases we spent scattered, me traveling among my children. Some we spent together, with inner distances between us we didn't mention, our smiling faces turned to the camera, our secret pain and memories within.

There are no photographs of the fractured Christmases, when one or another of my children was either physically or emotionally distant from me. No photographs mark the passage of those years of family unraveling and reweaving. Years when I learned to stay steady,  cling firmly to my life and carry on, believing in the power of a mother's patient, steadfast and unconditional love - and the healing powers of the passage of time - for my children to make their inner journeys away from and back to me.

Back and forth among my children, as the years passed, I traveled, a little shorter, a lot tireder, a little more frazzled with every year. Encouraging, supporting, trying to instil my belief that life holds goodness and wonder, once we are ready to let go of all the pain and anger. For a time, I thought the Christmases we once had only came with small children, and were forever gone.

For years, I could not bear to look at the photos of those young faces, knowing the pain we all had gone through since. There were years I took photos mainly of scenery and tried to heal myself from all the pain and struggle. This year, I could look. This year was the right time to give my kids back some of those happy childhood memories, remind them there were many more good times, much more laughter, than there were times of trouble. My children are on their own journeys now, have made peace with the past, embracing the present. They have become spiritual warriors on the path, and I watch with amazement as they grow in strength and wisdom and awareness.

And I am traveling too, to the season of my life when time becomes more finite, when there is a lot of looking-back and summing-up, and a wish to pass on all the love and gifts and wisdom one possesses while one still can.

While my children were growing, I was growing too, willy-nilly. I did some growing whole, some seizing of the reins of the galloping wild horses that were my children in those years. There were times when I felt utterly unable to cope, knowing I had no choice but to cope with what felt like too heavy a load. When my children were floundering in treacherous waters, somehow I had to encourage them from shore, throw life preservers, guide them through. Sometimes I felt like I was hanging onto the tail of a lashing dragon, that was wagging me.

Those years have been past a long time now. My children are no longer children. Some time back they assumed the reins and tamed their own wild horses.

Grandparents' faces are now missing around the table;  I find myself the matriarch and wonder how it all happened so fast. But my children have been coming home for Christmas most every year, and  some of the magic has been creeping back into that day.

This year was like the Christmases of old, kids disappearing under a sea of wrap, their heads poking out above the surface. Jon, giving me the best gift he could possibly give, in gifting his brother with a ghetto blaster to play his music. Jeff, more himself than he has been for years, hovering protectively over freshly caught fish Jon was cleaning, like a young priest, telling them "It will be okay." Lisa filling with new strength and awareness of her worth and rights as a human on this earth. Strong enough to hold her head up bravely under judgment of those who do not know, in order to live her truth. Gifting me with the honesty of her communication. And Steph, who for so long  sought family outside of our family, now finding it with her brothers and sister, as the family mends and re-weaves itself, growing strong at the broken places.

My friend had a similar Christmas with her children, her son giving her the verbal gift of forgiveness first thing Christmas morning, reducing her to tears. As we remark on the growth we are seeing in our children and the richness of our new relationships with the adults they have become, she remarks, "Our Christmases will be different from now on. Consciousness is growing in our children." And she is right.

I feel less lonely on my path, now that my children are so strongly embarked on theirs. Our conversations have new depth and recognition. I feel proud of the journeys they are making: journeys of the heart, of finding and living their own truth, pride in their heart and courage and honesty.

This year, once again, we took the Christmas photo. This year I have been privileged to see deeper into who my kids really are. We are now a mutual cheering section for each other, comparing notes on the journey. My health is faltering, exhausted from decades of pain and struggle, wanting only rest. But my childrens' light is outshining the darkness, and it is an awesome sight, brighter than any yuletide tree. Sometimes I feel it is by my sheer determination that we all made it safely through.

If I had one gift I could give them, it would be the incredible gratitude and reverence I have always felt for life, just life. I made it through my dark times because there was always blue sky and sunshine and trees, filling my heart with thankfulness, to keep me looking up. I wish that heart-lift for my children, that gift of seeing past the pain to all the beauty that is available when we are ready to reach out for it.

Sometimes I worry about what might yet lie ahead,  knowing I dont have the strength for much more. I feel the deep tiredness of someone who has been paddling hard for a very long time, whose arms are growing weaker. My mother's heart is always braced against the possibility of unbearable pain should anything happen to any one of my children.

This year the difference was, my children were helping me and easing things for me, instead of me helping them. And it felt really good, like we're all in this together, so maybe I dont have to be so strong any more.

As I lose strength, my children are gaining it. With what pride I survey my life's work: four very special young people who emerged from some very perilous passages with the mark of the wayfarer on their faces, and knowledge, compassion, caring and strength shining from their eyes. We are now journeying together, and can recognize and applaud each other's progress as, by different paths, we find and live our truths. The cycle of life is turning, turning, and my children are leading me Home.

The Big Four: Jeff, Lisa, Stephanie, and Jon