Monday, July 11, 2011

I'd like to tell you a story. It's like all the other stories, but a little different, so listen closely. It bears telling, this story, so that we all know what has brought us to this point. You may have heard part of it before; you may have lived part of it; you may have wished you lived part of it; you may be lucky enough to have been sitting by watching it all unfold. Now you will be a witness to the telling.

As many stories do, it starts with a baby. A sweet even-tempered, blueberry-eyed boy who only had two real difficulties - eating enough, and going to sleep. The baby fit himself into his parents' lives quite well - teaching them patience, and flexibility, and wonder. There came a point, not long after his birth, when the parents couldn't remember not being with the boy. And that was good.

So the boy ate, and grew, and ate, and grew, and eventually learned to sleep on his own. And he and his parents set out to explore the world.

Now it happened that they were visiting a mountainous place, and they stopped in a meadow for lunch. The meadow was huge - acres in all directions. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool (as it often is in the mountains.) The scrub around them was filled with clicking sounds and once they got out of the vehicle, they saw that what made the sounds were not grasshoppers but hundreds upon hundreds of hummingbirds.

The boy ran after them on chubby 2 1/2 year old legs, trying to catch them, but never quite succeeding. Time became nebulous in that meadow: the blue of the sky matched the little boy's eyes - the smell of hot rock and crushed sage - the clicks and whirs of the birds - all melding together and somehow redefining the rules of time and space.

They returned home, filled with the magic of the mountains, and family, and hummingbirds. Later that year another blue-eyed boy joined the family - this one with eyes the color of a crystalline lake, or the light blue afternoon sky. And the blueberry-eyed boy took on a new role: brother.

He was a good brother, helpful and kind. He started school that year as well, and learned about sharing, and numbers, and frogs, and words. When he learned about words, he also learned about stories. There was one story in particular that he often shared with his parents. His stories always started "Remember when..."

He'd take a deep breath and tell story without pausing:

"Remember when we went to Colorado and I got stung by a hummingbird and it gave me special skin which is tougher than your skin so I don't feel cold like you do and I don't feel pain like you do? Do you remember that? Do you??"

And the parents would say "Yes we remember the hummingbirds, but we don't remember you getting stung." And the boy would shout "I did! I did!" and tears would come and threaten at the corners of his eyes. So no more was said of it by the parents. But when they'd press a sweater on him, or comment on cuts they were bandaging, the boy would look up at them with serious blueberry-eyes, and say "Remember when? Remember my hummingbird skin?" and the parents would smile and nod their heads, and set aside the sweater with a grin.

The boy was an observer. He'd sit back and watch with those big blue eyes. He appreciated scientific theory and logic, and yet, still hold onto the magic he'd found in the hummingbirds. He clung to black and white expectations for others: teachers *should* know more than their students; other people *should* be fair; little brothers *should * know not to touch his stuff.

When the boy was 6, and the brother 3, a sister joined the family. She had changeable eyes, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes the dark grey of the sea in winter. Now the family was whole and complete, and somehow bigger than 2 plus 3.

The brothers were extraordinarily proud of their sister and she, in turn, was fascinated by them. They found a rhythm in their days, and in their lives, and it was comfortable.

Even with a sister in the family, the boy was dismissive of girly things. He'd use the term "whitish-red" to describe things that were pink. He'd put trucks and blocks into his sister's hand, hiding dolls and animals when he could.

He went to school, asking why or why not as the case may be. He read voraciously and remembered more than most. He told jokes, and ran races, and was pretty patient with his siblings.

Life moved on like it's been know to do. The boy grew in mind and body. Sometimes more in mind, sometimes more in body. Always stretching; always watching; always growing; always questioning.


And so we find ourselves here, at this point; where the meat of the story truly begins. We've finished the prologue for the most part, and are now eagerly anticipating "what's next".

In some cultures this is where the boy would go off into the woods for a week or so with a pipe, and some water, and no food, and wait for his totem to speak to him. In other cultures he'd train a bird to hunt, and when it was successful in the hunt they would call the boy a man. In this culture there is no recognized point at which the boy gets to move easily or assuredly into adulthood. Sometimes it's based on a number, sometimes its happenstance, sometimes its laziness on the part of the other adults. But this family has chosen: 29 years ago this family decided to start a tradition of recognizing this transition into adulthood.

When I was 13 (29 years ago!! ack!) my aunt Robin brought up this idea, and I was kind of skeptical. First of all it was different, which is pretty much the kiss of death for anything involving a 13 year old; 2nd of all everyone in the family would be looking and talking to me - almost every 13 year old also has a love/hate relationship with popularity and attention.

But she carved this beautiful heron sculpture, and my great-grandparents were there (a 4th of July celebration in Rockford, IL under the oak tree) and it turned out to be exactly right and just what I needed.

The ceremony has continued - all 9 grandchildren, and now Liam starts the next generation. If you will take the sculpture around the circle Liam, each family member will impart some advice, or reflection, or just think kind thoughts toward you. All you have to do is listen, smile, nod, or say thank you.


And so, with this, we say goodbye to the blueberry-eyed boy and welcome the young man who is taking his place....

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Journey to Black Belt
by Lysne Tait

I wish I could say my journey to my black belt had an auspicious beginning. A fortune cookie, say, or a little old lady with a gnarled finger pointing me to the dojang; but it didn’t. My journey started with peer pressure. My husband and sons were going to taekwondo on a regular basis, my daughter wanted to go, and my new friend Tasma had just started. (I should probably add that Tasma was such a new friend, I didn’t even really know her name at the time - we had met in Pilates class. She was soft spoken, well read, and had rabbit-fur mittens.) She would bound up to me after Pilates and say “When are you going to go? You’ve got to go to taekwondo” and finally, sometime in February, I went.

That first class took me by surprise. It was so much more difficult than I had ever imagined. Even standing up straight and still on the mat was hard. I laughed out loud at myself and my inability to make my body do what I wanted it to do. It was fun - a lark. Not something that I was going to take seriously. It was just something to fill the time while my daughter was at school.

Slowly it changed into something more. I can’t even put my finger on the point when I started to enjoy the challenge; that point when I let taekwondo be part of my future; when I let go of being self-conscious. Instead of filling the time, taekwondo became purposeful. I was calmer, more focused - I could handle life in general, better. I was never one for sitting still and meditating. My mind would go off to a hundred places at once. I needed to do walking meditation - to keep my body moving so that my mind could be calm. The forms provided that outlet for me. Here was a place that I could let go of ought-to’s and should’s and just be.

I’m not a church-going person. I haven’t found the place that feels right yet, but taekwondo is close. The rituals, the acceptance, the support, the camraderie - I’ve seen similar instances in houses of worship. I belong and I love that I belong. My taekwondo friends have become family. I need that structure, that outlet, to keep sane.

My first tournament was nerve-wracking and fun at the same time. I didn’t participate in organized sports growing up, so I had never really been in a competitive atmosphere. My knees were shaking as I heard my group called to the staging area. They separated us by gender, age and belt level. My group consisted entirely of moms of other taekwondo students; instead of being competitive, they were very supportive. I came home with a few trophies, had a terrific time, learned a lot about competing, and became fast friends with the women in my ring.

Taekwondo slipped into other parts of my life. I set up a self-defense course for the parents at my daughter’s school. I typed up a list of addresses for Master Flotka, then designed a brochure, organized a volunteer spring cleaning for a former student who was incapacitated, and headed up a Holiday potluck. Soon I was working on the website and answering phones for Master Flotka and dreaming of getting my own staff shirt.

Now I help out with teaching a couple of times per week. I answer phones, pick up trash, cheer the kids on, and always have part of my mind thinking of the school. I am supremely thankful to those who pushed me in this direction (my husband Craig, my kids, Tasma, Mr. Duncan), and to those who have helped me along the way (Master Flotka, Master Lance, Maria, Melissa, Lindsey, and everyone I’ve been in class with). In every version of what I imagine I will do next in my life - taekwondo is a major player. I have become more self-confident, more engaged, more excited about life. I am looking forward to becoming a certified instructor. My black belt is not the culmination of a journey, it is the beginning: a most auspicious beginning.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

my heart is full, and heavy,
my limbs are aching with inaction and indecision;
restlessness runs up and down my spine,
- itchy fingers tracing patterns:

stress manifests itself into jawline pressure
crawls up to the top of my head
around my neck

so much to do
when all I really want to do is sleep, or read.
too many things too many things too many things

dishes mock me from the sink
dog hair blurs the edges of the floor, the couch,
the dirty sock islands

detritus of five lives deliniates high water marks in the house
(and this is when I worked until 8;

and this is when Craig was gone;

and this is Liams lacrosse practice;

Molly's party;

Adam's game; leftovers for dinner, or take out..

tattoos beating in my head: you will nevernevernevernevernevernevernevernever

Please write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

The bruise seeps away from the toe, coloring the other toe and the top of the foot. I keep it up, raised, covered with ice, like the book says. The other toes are cold and stiff, but the movement of color slows and the swelling abates. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just pretty - purple and blue and pink. I am trying to figure out how I can still work out with this injury.

Please shade in the entire circle. Do not mark outside of the circle.

My husband is educating my son - finding Eddie Murphy on YouTube talking about Elvis, and lemonade. My son Liam is 13 and could care less, but he still comes over gamely. My other son Adam, 10, is at his computer, making the Google Translate lady talk to him in Spanish. “Liam sucks his thumb” becomes “Liam se chupa el dedo pulgar” - and he laughs and plays it again. There must be something magical about teasing your brother in another language.

and still, blood pumps rhythmically in my toe, pounding.

Use only a number 2 pencil to complete this area.

Sleet falls against the window. I am sitting on the “cold couch” - the one closest to the window. The couch is leather, and sitting here in the winter requires soft blankets, a warm computer and a cat, if possible. It’s a loveseat, and I can rest my foot on the arm - which ensures that the toe stays elevated. Condensation from the ice dribbles down the arch of my foot, tickling.

Do not leave your seat until notified to do so.

My daughter comes over to check my foot. Her forehead creases in concentration as she touches the ice pack. Her hand rests on my shin, and she giggles. “Cold hands mama! Didja feel my hand? Want me to tell you a joke mama? Would that make you feel better? Why did the skeleton cross the road?” Before the “d” of “road” is out of her mouth she jumps back in with the wrong answer “He had no body to dance with!” and then she is off again, caroming around the room; fearless.

If you have any questions, please raise your hand.

I do have a question... This is good, it is pleasant, I am warm, my family is happy, I want for nothing and yet

What do I want? What drags my shoulders down, carves lines in my forehead, forces my jaw together?

I am raising my hand wildly in the air

and no one comes.