Weathering Change and Grief

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Outside, California Quail call from the garden in plaintive voices, "Chi-CA-go! Chi-CA-go!" Mounds of Mexican bush sage bloom with stalks of plush purple velvet flowers, along with starry yellow bush sunflower, and scarlet pineapple sage. It's late afternoon and the tide is going out; I can smell the briny musk of the estuary below the bluff in the back yard of The Mesa Refuge, near Point Reyes Station on California's foggy north coast. 

I'm here thanks to the Alice Dorrance Spiritual Writing Fellowship and the generosity of those who support The Mesa Refuge, particularly its founder, Peter Barnes. The house I share with two other writers, Syrian journalist and CUNY professor Alia Malek, and writer and divinity school professor Fred Bahnson, is open and airy, with large windows and high ceilings, a tribute to its beginnings as a painter's studio.

Perched on a bluff that traces the path of one of North America's great fault systems, The San Andres, where one plate of Earth's crust slips slowly past the other, Mesa is literally on an edge. That continuing creep of two segments of Earth's shell creates stress and pressure, and the occasional herky-jerky displacement of earthquakes, appropriate for a place that nurtures writing that is figuratively on the edge as well, writing with the aim of changing the world. 

The gathering room at Mesa, lit by the gorgeous golden light of a coastal afternoon. 

I am here on an edge in my own life, a time of changes both positive and not-so, a time when I am called to look both back at the recent past and forward to a future that despite all, I sense great promise. This month marks seven years since Richard Cabe, the love of my life and my husband for the greater part of three decades, left this existence, killed by the same kind of brain cancer that recently took the life of Senator John McCain. 

Nearly a month ago, on October 7th, my father died, after he turned 90 years old in July, and then being diagnosed just a few weeks later with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (cancer of the lymph cells). Dad was looking forward to voting this November, taking part in what he hoped would be a wave of civil, fair-minded politics that would turn the country to a more positive direction. May his hopes be borne out!

His death leaves my brother and I the elders in our small family. We aim to model the kind of love and generosity that Dad and Mom showed us, along with their abiding curiosity about the natural world and deep commitment to using their skills and resources for the greater good of all. Eldering is a big responsibility, but it's a joy as well, because we get to watch our kids and their kids grow and find their own ways to give back to the world. (And we get to nudge and help as we can.)

Dad (far right), and my brother, Bill Tweit, with Bill's middle daughter, Sienna Bryant and her family, hubby Matt (far left), and their kids, Fiona and Porter

At the same time that I feel optimistic about the generations to come and their dedication to making a positive difference in the battered world we are leaving them, I also feel a deep grief for the planet I love, as climate change destabilizes not just our weather systems, but the myriad of interconnections between species large and small--from bacteria to blue whales--that maintain the health of whole watersheds, continents, air masses, and the oceans. I am working on a book about restoring nature at home to help us unlock our paralysis about climate change and take seemingly small actions that can stem that tide, and also restore beauty and health to our own lives. 

Even as that work gives me hope, I find myself grieving in a selfish way, because I am weathering these changes--personal and political and planetary--on my own, without Richard, the partner who challenged and inspired and nurtured me. Whose company helped me be a better and stronger and wiser version of myself. At this time of year, I feel the loss of his steady love and companionship most acutely. I have built a happy and fulfilling life on my own, and I have no desire to change my femme solo status, except for this stubborn and illogical wish that Richard were still here, with me. 

So up and down I go, bobbing on the stream of changes that are the only constant in this existence, the journey we call life. Weathering those changes is part of being human, of being alive.

I believe we can turn in a more positive direction. As a sign of that faith, here I am, writing with determination and hope. Writing the change I want to see.

Dilla, a Oaxacan dream armadillo, keeps me company and brings a smile as I write.

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