WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
The Triple Goddess Trials
KALI’S ANCIENT LOVE SONG
“Compared to romantic love, active love is something severe and
“Blue are the life giving waters taken for granted/ They quietly
understand/ Once happy turquoise armies stand opposite ready/ but wonder why
the fight is on/ But they’re all bold as love.”
My three-year-old daughter, Isabel kisses trees goodnight. She also wonders whether grass feels lonely when everyone goes to sleep. And when she exclaims with wide glowing eyes, “Mommy, la luna, the moon, the moon, the moon!” in the tone we usually reserve for spotting a long lost friend, I admit to feeling knee-buckling waves of adoration.
On such occasions I also have to restrain my overwhelming urge to scoop her up in my arms and repeatedly kiss the top of her head. For embraces are no longer unreservedly welcome in the way they were only months ago (OUCH.) But I’m slowly learning that restraint along with careful attention to the thrill of her discoveries is just another form of affection.
Of course, I don’t always permit my daughter the time to comment upon trees, grass, and the moon, especially when I am in a rush, overwhelmed, or tired (re: most of the time). And I might as well confess right up front: There are other sentiments my daughter expresses (loudly) that make me want to pull all my-and her-hair out.
For instance “I WANT” in all shapes and sizes is countered flatly by, “How do you say it when you want something, darling?” in falsetto tones channeled through me from some 1950s TV show.
It’s not serving Isabel hand and foot that troubles me (since she’s three I don’t as yet expect her to land a job in Manhattan or even pour herself a glass of milk), it’s the glass-breaking tone of her voice that sends hot shivers through my kidneys, worms its way to my liver, and rises in my throat when suddenly (but not without warning) a she-devil otherwise known as me, wrings her hands and steps up to the mommy soap box...
“For God’s sake Isabel, stop whining!” I erupt.
But not long thereafter I catch myself red-handed lecturing one minute, and then bargaining (like an idiot) with a three year old who could win an Oscar for her imitation of the Roman emperor, Nero (or some irrational, arm-waving dictator, anyway) the kind of mind that transforms a denied cookie into the ultimate act of betrayal.
KALI’S SACRED SONG
Once, in a land of vermillion sunsets, the goddess Kali stretched her arms to the sky and began to sing. In her voice, the ocean met tall desert cliffs, stars tumbled down like stones, and tiny sea barnacles clung to wet depths. And it seemed like time stood still.
Can you imagine yourself there?
Her blue-black arms sway like smoke. You want to embrace the immensity of her shape, smell the waves of her hair, for everyone sees her with the same blind raw infant love... And her voice. Her voice opens and fills the night air with sounds low, deep trickling through tree trunks, grass, and pebbles like a winding river one that washes through every dry crack of thirst. She sings and sings until the strongest men and women are left with longing, smooth and liquid in their mouths.
But, when she finally turns to face you, her arms hold daggers and her breath is fire.
Your shock and disappointment mean nothing to her. Her gaze will tear the truth out of your chest, her words, a thousand mirrors, reflect your purest self, your finest deed. But also every demon you harbor, every disparity between what you just did and what you say you believe. Ripped from the comforting pillows of blame and self-pity, you will witness each and every way you are the worst offender.
Few have the courage to meet her.
For she is true love.
My dear readers, you will be forgiven for scratching your heads over this last supposition. One might ask, isn’t Kali already well known, not as the goddess of true love, but instead as the goddess of destruction!? And you might correctly remind me that Kali was a fierce warrior (one who could demolish entire worlds and time itself!) with her black tongue and that well, ahem, she danced on the heads of her victims! Just what, you might ask, is her wild, unpredictable frame doing appeasing spiritual thirst and feeding into the divine love of a mother for her child?
DR. PHIL AND THE CAR-SEAT WRESTLING MATCH
First, let me tell you a little story about karmic testing. It involves an innocent child (HA!), a furious mother, and an extreme battle of the wills. Central to its theme is exasperation, nagging, and ultimately failure.
On a sunny day when other mothers and daughters are frolicking and holding hands in parks filled with butterflies and golden retrievers, I arrive home with my daughter and ask her to get out of the car. She refuses to budge. A common situation, easily solved, right?
You have NOT met my daughter.
Do I laugh or smile patiently when my dearest love spans entire octaves with the one syllable word I have grown to hate? “NO!” as she would say. I don’t want to. I want to. NO. I don't want to. I want to.
ME: Isabel, you need to come inside from the car.
Fifteen more minutes of this and I walk away (against the advice of every parenting manual I have skeptically and desperately perused in bookstores!) and leave her in the car. I don’t care. I’m trying to breathe. Guilt-ridden, half expecting to be surrounded by police for leaving my child alone for sixty seconds, I rush back to the car door.
Suddenly, I imagine Dr. Phil’s smug face, one hand on his hip, raised eyebrows, voice disturbingly “mellow” and feel a rush of lava-like rage climb through my body. “Who’s in control here?” the know-it-all Phil would say. He’d probably be smirking too.
With a burst of adrenalin, I grab my protesting child and wrap her around my hip so as not to get bruises. Her legs are going, her fists are seeking my flesh. Her screams could be heard on a busy airplane runway strip. With a breath of relief, I put her down as soon as we get inside the door, where she immediately starts up again. And you see, at that moment, I don’t even remember what laughter feels like. And that’s my warning bell. That’s when I know I’ve lost.
A few hours later, I’m chasing her and tickling her like we are the best of friends, but my heart feels like a brick in my chest. How can I ever show my daughter the way to overcome adversity when I continue to find myself struggling (not so attractively) like a beast within its confining shackles of anger?
Sitting on the bad-parent bench, other questions (for which there are no real answers) inevitably bounce through my head like, “Can I (sometimes most impatient of mothers) eventually teach my child patience?” And the hangdog parent’s favorite, “Why can’t I be more like... ?” loud and heavy as bowling balls landing in the gutter.
If romantic love is a gift, active love is always earned.
I liken romantic love to that automatic balloon of euphoria that sent me swooning minutes after my daughter was born. A few days later, when I was pacing in circles rocking ten pounds of screaming tears in my arms (when I really wanted to eat my dinner) it hit me hard that a new, unpredictable (deeply unhappy) boss had permanently moved into our household. Sharp pangs of disappointment, terror of the unknown, and a wholly unpleasant humility (as I made mistake after mistake) merged undiscernibly with fascination and awe.
So, I’m going to suggest that something at least as sublime as milky-eyed “I love yous” and smitten embraces can be harvested where we least expect to find them in our most excruciating (and ongoing) cycles of learning. Hidden in painful feelings of remorse, shame, anger, and insecurity and perhaps the most challenging act of all forgiveness (of ourselves and others). Especially when Kali stamps all over our cherished notions of ourselves and we start to see things as they really are.
In this vast ever-changing place of revelation, it is hard not to weep before Kali’s timeless song, not to mention her less than flattering mirror. Where we once might have rolled our eyes in judgment, or stiffened our backs and taken offense, or pushed theoretical (but useless) advice, we might now feel a profound urge to simply bow our heads in deeper understanding.
And that’s where active love begins...
When my husband and I were first married, I teased him mercilessly about listening to CDs in order to memorize birdsong because as he leaned closer to the stereo deciphering whistles and buzzings and trills, he concentrated as though he were cramming for an exam. He also withstood wisecracks from me for seeking to assess the wingspan of hawks from the driver’s seat (not safe!), and suffered long annoyed stares on walks whenever he gently scolded me because I guessed (wrongly) the species of a sudden frog most magical of animals upon our path.
At the time, perhaps a little defensive of my own ignorance, I chided him for all this fuss and worry over the tiniest of anatomical details, I mean, wasn’t he missing the point? Do we need to know the exact name of every creature, or whether their spots are mottled gray or whether their song ends as though with a question mark in order to fully appreciate their essence? My argument stemmed from a theoretical persuasion that in naming and measuring the wings of sacred creatures, we seek to tame and control (and the irony is not lost on me that when I became a mother, those exact aspirations erupted like a cloudy storm in my psyche!) rather than feel and understand.
But in a humble bow to specificity, I’ll have to admit that in this very effort toward nomenclature, we engage a secret part of ourselves otherwise left dormant and vague.
I wonder if there is any better way to know someone, than to behold a certain shade of awe in their eyes as they gasp at the moonlight... Or to take in the scent of their birth as you hold them in your arms... Or even to identify from a crowded room the delight in a child’s signature laughter...
For as many shades of blue (the deepest reflection of light) saturate the wings of Indigo buntings, as many flutelike notes deepen the winter air and rush through Spring mornings teeming with Song Sparrows and Purple Finches... there are an equal number of ways to see and hear. And within the limitations and opportunities of our seasons (complete with irritable mornings and rushed afternoons) there are also endless ways in which we can know and love.
And therefore, it is not incongruous to place the exasperation and subsequent self-loathing elicited by resistant three year olds whose barked orders and sulking tantrums smack of a certain mad emperor’s within the melody of one long, urgent love song.