I was booked to leave on Friday morning for South Dakota, to our fifth bearing witness retreat with Lakota elders. I worked very hard the day before, which usually happens before a trip that starts early the next morning, and went to bed early. And stayed awake all night.
I looked into the darkness for hours, thinking that this would be my first bearing witness retreat since Bernie had died. We loved those retreats so much! I was there when he first conceived of one at Auschwitz/Birkenau, we planned and plotted over it incessantly. Other couples talk about the kids or grandkids or a movie they saw or how they’re feeling; we talked about bearing witness retreats.
He attended one Native American retreat and no more due to his stroke, so this one doesn’t have the same imprint. It didn’t matter. I felt he was there with me the whole night.
What do you think? I asked him. I thought of the 40 some odd folks coming, their enthusiasm and joy at seeing each other and how disconnected I feel from that right now.
A friend later told me: “It’s like you shared the same skin for years, and when he went, part of your skin fell off. You feel horribly exposed and vulnerable because there’s no skin to protect you. No wonder you want to slink off to a corner and hide somewhere. You want to protect ourself.”
Aussie came up—she never comes up to the second floor on hot summer night because it’s much cooler downstairs—she could sense something was up. Probed with her muzzle—“What’s going on? Why aren’t you sleeping? And maybe, since you’re up anyway, how about opening up the dog door so that I could run out and bark?”
“Aussie,” I whispered to her, “I saw a large golden coyote cross the road in the morning. Was that the big animal that crashed through our yard yesterday and sent you tearing out of the house like a mad canine?”
She nuzzled me some more in that darkness. Of course it was, I thought to myself. Bernie loved coyote tricksters. He loved to cause things to appear, and then disappear.
Was he pushing me to go? Was he telling me to show up? In his last years he was so soft, every ounce of hardness had left him. “I don’t want to create more work for you,” he said over and over again. “You should do what’s good for you.”
Do what’s good for you. If you’ve been indoctrinated towards obligation and duty, that’s not so simple. But this morning, at 6 am, I decided not to go.
I’m looking for a softer place now, someplace that’s more intuitive, more home. That’s got more give. Not the old neighborhood of You gotta show up, you can plow through this, come on, you’re strong, other people have it so much tougher than you, etc., etc. I flinch now when people call me strong.
It’s time to relocate. Find that place that’s soft and light, that lets me breathe. Tender.