Breaking Spells

I’ve rarely gone full under in January, certainly not without a wetsuit. Last weekend I did it in a swimsuit while the kids played on shore. Not a big dip, not an epic swim, but so good. Heading back to the car I heard the change in my own voice, more open, clearer. The old me was poking his head out for a moment. Running my fingers along my skin and through my hair I could feel the clarity. My energy had been blown completely free of worry, worth days of meditation.

If you’ve ever spent time in the Pacific you know how much it can do for you, how much it changes you. Its been about a decade since I gave up open water swimming as my main form of exercise, I’m definitely not a better person for it. It doesn’t matter how churned up the Monterey Bay looks, how cold it is, once you’ve gotten to spend serious time with her, she always calls to you. Some part of you knows it can be reborn there. Everything can be cleared away.

Terry and I swam together before Tadg was born, stretching the summer out as long as we could in the low Autumn sun. Today she’s at home receiving a treatment, riding different waves. Its impossible to know what to tell people about how Terry is doing. Really, only she knows what she wants to share at any given moment. I gave up on trying to translate that into simple math long ago. We all want to box this process up, make it right, weave in statistics so we can map out where she is on this journey. Whats happening is Terry’s process. Thats pretty much it, no maps. Me and the kids are with her constantly. Life is happening. And of course cooking, I get to cook for her.

Mom used to slam her cooking pans down on the stove,
screaming at the world,
banishing the patriarchs who scorned her,
now I raise them up
to ward off my deepest
helplessness.

I get to cook for you,
making warm islands
to hide on
for a moment
this nourishes
this pleasures
this fills you.

I study your emptied plates
with greedy eyes.

Healing has become something new to me this year. I’ve come to understand love is the context for all miracles. Think about how many times in any day love transforms suffering effortlessly. When we speak kindly to each other, when we love ourselves, when a father or mother loves their child. If true healing is about transforming suffering, then we are surrounded by miraculous healing every day. Its changed the way I pray, now my morning prayer is to let love be my guide for the day. Just that. Simple is good for me now.

Two happy animals padding on six feet…

True is “forgetting” to bring her shoes with her when we go out more and more often. We walked to the car letting the sand fall off as we traveled, she holds Bella’s leash with pride. Her body is so sure and strong, connected to the ground, she moves as if the Earth belongs to her and all the animals she thinks of as kin. I’ll have to carry her into the store and put her in the cart without shoes. She’ll love being carried, still queen of the world … or at least queen of Papa. But she doesn’t need to be carried anywhere any more, not really.

I’ll be spending more time in the Ocean. This time no training back in the pool, just keep the wetsuit in the car and swim when you can. Bella chased me into the water and got swept back to shore. Lesson learned. Tadg fished some, he’s still more interested in tackling me or True in a rugby/football game of his own design (which mainly involves him tackling and then running away.) Man, does he have a sweet throwing arm.

Next days commute included passing a dead Raccoon in the road. After running errands back and forth I passed her for the third time in as many hours, I decided I’d had enough. Time to outfit the minivan with a road-kill-cleanup-kit (I have one for the truck.) After a quick stop at Ace Hardware I parked in the middle of Soquel Drive with cars slicing by in both directions. I didn’t need the shovel after all, was able to get everything up just using the extra large trash bag. She was sizeable, maybe 45 lbs. Judging by the thin line of gore she got hit on the side of the road and dragged herself into the middle of the road.

As I packed up a woman came out of her office and thanked me. I gave her my standard country wave (hold the hand up, let it pause for a moment, then drift down.) I wonder if she knew I was doing it for the Racoon, not for us. When I saw that animal I felt the spirits displeasure at it being left in the middle of the road for so long. How many hours were we going to leave it there? I felt such a strong presence of concern around it. I’ve come to believe that the world is a place of great feeling, every bit of it. We are just habituated to hiding from that way of being in the world.

I couldn’t get her in the Earth until sunset later that day, it was close to dark as I trudged up the hill and started digging. I buried her deep enough so Bella wouldn’t find her, but I expect the Coyotes will make a meal of her remains soon. The next day I had a powerful, loving light filling my heart. It was as if picking up the Racoon and burying it later had broken some kind of spell over me. Claiming that I am the kind of person who feels a presence around dead animals, yes I will walk out into the middle of a busy road to wrap up a mangled carcass for later burial at home, let something bloom in me again. Yes I will call out to the spirits over its remains, yes yes yes. Its time to let more fall away and just be me.

Then he let loose 900 of his human children into the Ocean, and the Seals were born.

What does it take to break a spell, a heavy spell like depression or even cancer? There’s a story I wrote about, an old Celtic story of how the Seals came to be that talks about breaking a toxic spell that has swept over the land, wrought by the presence of the Fomorians. At one point our hero, the one whose deeds would break the spell, enters the enchanted land, the place where the mystical sickness that must be transformed originates from. There he finds a man, once a wizard now helplessly trapped in an endless task of building a fence out of thin branches to hold back the Oceans tide. He builds and it is swept away, then he rebuilds again.

Thats a big clue – a liminal (somewhat twisted) place, betwixt and between – between land and ocean, between ordinary (building a fence) and insanity (to keep out the Ocean.) When you’re under a spell your life can feel like that: this is not real, this is not how things are supposed to be, yet you’re trapped. This insanity has become the new real. It feels like you’re farther away from whats real than you ever have been before, but really the opposite is true. This middle place is closer to the new real than you realize, you just have more to pass through.

Being in that middle-place with children is somehow easier, they intuitively know just how to be there. Their list of life-plans is much shorter than ours, perhaps limited to the next toy they want, the next adventure, the friend or relative they most want to visit. So why not spend the day making a wattle fence to keep out the Ocean? Of course you should stop your day to take care of the road-kill thats calling out to you, thats what you do in life.

Being with the Ocean is that way too. Things don’t stay stuck for too long when you’re immersed in her power. The Seals are special creatures of knowing this, as they can live in both worlds, are experts at crossing liminal terrains. That speaks heavily of our kinship I think, that we have relations who are so skilled at helping us move beyond our own limitations, move through these strange worlds we sometimes find ourselves trapped in. But we have to reach out to them, acknowledge our kinship, bury their dead when it matters.

Stepping across those invisible barriers, making deals with wattle weaving wizards, designating yourself Raccoon internment agent, swimming in the Ocean in January all require at least stepping out of the ordinary. But those rule-breaking moments can’t be forced, can’t be rationally known if they are to break spells. You just have to SEE what is required and do it. Doesn’t matter how absurd it sounds on the face of it – maybe the more absurd the better. You just do it because you know its part of who you are. This is a child’s terrain indeed.


Who are we
but the lost children of the Sidhe
wandering for a home
that surrounds us
but we can’t touch,
mistaking her emissaries
for enemies.

Lets at least
bury her fallen
in this war
of ignorance,
and dine with the sure knowing
that our ancestors
await us all
and will celebrate
when we finally
come home.