Why are you shaking?  How can you stop?  Does it make sense to be crying at this moment?  Are you becoming an angry, sad person?  I often question myself about my turbulent emotions since the storm.

But I trust my dreams.  Usually, they are highly symbolic and ripe for interesting interpretations.  This one, though, was straightforward:


I am at work.  People are talking about next New Year’s Eve.   It is quickly approaching, and they are excited about their parties.  I’m walking in the hall, and colleagues are casually tossing friendly inquiries to each other, like we all do before any weekend or holiday.  What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?  Oh, nice.  Enjoy.  What are you guys doing?  But it is still not any weekend or holiday for me.  It is still not just any anything.

I am still not home.

A wave washes over me, that memory-feeling-smell of old beloved places, and a decade of New Years’ past warms my core and crushes my heart.

All feels lost.  Now I am being carried by the wave, now I am the wave.

I have trouble smiling and seeming OK.  Usually I can be happy for people even when I am not happy for me, but today it is hard.  I tell them the sad truth of my plans.  Some dream gibberish comes out of me and it means something like, That’s what I used to do.  I can’t do that anymore.  And I miss it.  I miss it more than anything.  I long for it.  I ache.

And then just as I walk into my classroom, Phil Phillip’s “Home” comes over the loudspeaker!  Now, I’ve often said that school has been my home for the past 16 months—but this song is on my move-in day playlist.  It’s one of the tunes I’ve been waiting to press play on for 16 months—on the day I go home, back to my Long Beach house built back even stronger, over the same good bones.  On the day I escape all this flooding and surface, finally, warm and dry in the everyday.  Living to live, being to be—not to get money, not to get justice, not to get home.

Just being, not strategizing.  Just asking, not begging.  Just listening, not wishing.

After Mom died, it seemed everyone talked about mothers.  My mother is driving me crazy, Mom took me out to lunch, my mother called to see if I needed anything.  Since the storm, everyone talks about home.  Of course they do!  The stress of cleaning or having company, or even the inconvenience of simple, planned renovations.  The simple joys of Saturday morning pancakes, or having friends for a barbeque.   In the faculty room, everyone always seems to be eating tomatoes plucked from gardens or leftovers from Sunday dinner.

I wonder about my friends who have lost children.  How?  How do you get through a day?

Most days I remember my good fortune and I keep a smile on my face.  But in this dream, the song inexplicably breaks into my empty classroom and I collapse onto the colorful square carpet and I wail.  Jill next door comes in to see if I am OK.  “I miiisss iiit.  I miss my house.  I miss my life.”  Then I yell.  “I miss fun!  I miss ease!  I miss myself!”

I yell harder, cry harder.  In my waking life, I never yell or cry this hard because it is just a house.  In my dream life, I feel what I feel.  I am deeply connected to my home and my world; it has been torn from me; I am profoundly devastated.


I am surrounded by the normal.  I intersect with other people’s normal days, normal plans.  And I too must still change my oil, conduct parent-teacher conferences, and bring wine to the party.

When running errands around Long Beach, I wonder how many people at the Physical Therapist’s office or CVS are doing what I’m doing.  I remember when mom was dying I would drive up the Meadowbrook and wonder which person in which little car capsule was deeply entrenched in an agonizing loss such as mine.  We were so separated from each other; it was impossible to know or guess.  When a man refused to let me in to his lane I thought, if he knew, he would.  He most certainly has compassion but who exercises it on a Friday afternoon in rush hour near the mall before the holidays?  I wonder what it would be like to live in a small community where everyone knows everyone and everything.  Where the whole place carries you until you are OK.  Where everyone has a face and they show you understanding.

Work is like that.  And our small community of friends in Long Beach has carried us.  But out there in a Home Depot-Walmart world, none of us knows who has lost a home or a mother or a child.

My dream tells me that right or wrong, no matter what judgment I place on myself for my emotions, they are there and they are raw.  My loss may not be as great as someone else’s, but my particular pain is my own and it pulls at me even as I resist, thinking I should be stronger or I don’t have it so bad.


I can feel it, but I don’t have to live it.  I can feel angry or sad and express it, without becoming an angry, sad person.

At noon today I will stand in protest with others who are fighting for their homes and for justice.  Perhaps expressing my righteous anger in public, with others, in a forum created for this purpose, will heal my dreams.

In another I had recently, I am relaxing with Steve on the beach in Long Beach.  Not a care in the world.  Eating, laughing, watching the water.  A picnic.  A book.  Ahhh, I dare to think.  This is the life.  Can it really be so easy?

And then, the wave.  And then we are up, terrorized, leaving our happy things behind, running for our lives.


When we are home, and my roots reattach, my dreams will settle into earth again.  My emotions will be both steady and blooming healthily.  I will watch the waters from a distance, feeling secure and open.

We have been waiting twenty days for insulation.  I have remained remarkably steady throughout.  Somehow, at this stage, the “oh, you won’t believe how fast it goes, insulation—sheetrock—boom!” stage, when it has slowed so painfully again, I am stronger and surer than ever.   Perhaps the anger and sadness are becoming like old friends.  I am learning to live with them.  I feed them only what they need and go about my day.  They feel more appropriate as they balance me and keep me honest.  Just a few more months, and I won’t crave an inappropriate outburst and I won’t tuck my feelings away in shame.  I will walk with anger and sadness just as I walk with joy, comfortably.

Then we will relax on the beach together, not fearing the end.  Accepting and embracing.  Cumbaya.



2 responses to “Cumbaya

  1. I was just talking about you and then I find another emotionally eloquent entry from you. I said to Jimmy I have to call Jenn and check in. Well, checking in and letting you know I remain awed at your resilience and sorry for your continued struggles. Sending love and pleasant dreams. xoxo

    • Thank you Stacey, as always. I’m glad this helps you feel as though you’ve checked in. That was one of my goals upon starting this blog–I was so out of communication with the people that matter. And largely, I still am. I feel connected to you knowing you are reading. Love you.

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