Attachment, a Meditation

Canoe Bay Flower and Veggie Garden Summer 2015
© 2016 Marta C Drew


Each Fall, I kneel in my fading garden, I wrap geraniums, sweet potato vine, and petunias around my wrists, and I pull. A few plants come willingly, bursting from their pots in a dusty shower, but most cling stubbornly to the soil they know. I spend the season’s last sunny afternoons combing through the earth with my fingers, tugging at the roots. I am patient and methodical, but the job is never clean. Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled. This is as it should be. They have meant so much to each other.


Grandma Betty’s sewing machine is sitting on the floor of my garage these days. It hums and vibrates like a time machine as I pass it on the way to my car or step over it to retrieve a sweet potato from the bin. That sewing machine would carry me all the way to Grandma’s workroom if I let it, pull me right down onto her blue jacquard davenport. It has powers. It has roots. It could tuck me under the long worktable next to the box of fabric scraps from bridesmaids’ dresses, the gown for the Montgomery kolacky queen, somebody’s apron. Even now, years and miles away from where it started, that sewing machine exhales malt and yeast from the basement kitchen next to Grandma’s workroom. It practically speaks Czech. So it stays, though I haven’t used it in years.  It stays, though Grandma is long gone.


The gurus warn against attachment. Attachment leads to suffering, attachment is an illusion, attachment is the root of all grief.


Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled.


Hanging in the back of my closet –the way back– is my mother’s old full-length fur coat.  I will never wear it, not ever, but I can’t get rid of it, either. When she bought it in the eighties, she was a 5’10” attorney with season tickets to the Guthrie theater and Minnesota Orchestra. She wore it over power suits with shoulder pads. She wore it over Ellen Tracy coordinates to dinner at the Minneapolis Club. My mom and her fur coat were an original eighties power couple: enormous, unforgettable.


She wore that coat to chemotherapy once, a couple of months before she died.  Winter was unrelenting that year and she needed the warmth. She had shrunk an inch or two by then and was unsteady on her feet, a column of fur inching across the parking ramp. I carried our purses, a tote bag full of magazines and food I hoped to make her eat. As we walked I kept a hand stretched out towards her, as if I were an animal handler and she a bear stuck with a tranquilizer dart. If she lurched in one direction or another, I would be ready.  Though she only wore her coat to the clinic that one time, all four months of her illness are encapsulated for me in that stretch of parking ramp. Tense, watchful, carrying too much.


Once we were inside, I lifted the fur from Mom’s shoulders and lugged its extravagant bulk  with the rest of my burden down the clinic hall to the lab, then an exam room, and finally to the infusion room, where it was given its own chair. Nobody sat on it, though open down the front, its sleeves resting on the arms of the chair, it seemed willing enough to perform the office of comforter. A ghost of my powerful, protective mother’s former self. A ghost that lives in my closet. If I pulled it out and got rid of it, how much of my mother would come with it? How much would be left behind for me to keep?


Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other.


According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, The purpose of detachment is to let everything nonessential fall away –material things, our suffering, petty likes and dislikes– until only the purest, truest Self remains.


If I get rid of Grandma’s sewing machine and Mom’s fur coat, pull them from  the garage and closet where they are of no use to anyone, something of their contexts will come with them –maybe  a scrap of taffeta from a bridesmaid dress, a staple from the old davenport.  Maybe a shoulder pad from an Ellen Tracy blazer or an old Guthrie ticket. They can go. The sewing machine and my mom’s fur coat are nonessential, just things. Even my grief for their original owners is ephemeral, like summer flowers. Everything earthly fades, dies back, and is replaced with something new: another machine, another coat, fresh grief, fresh love.


The extraordinary Mary Oliver, my very favorite poet, says:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


Everything and everyone in this life is temporary, but does that mean it isn’t essential? Can anyone help being attached? Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other. Reminding us we don’t have to be attached to be connected.


English Ivy
© 2016 Marta C Drew

A Year

Corn Tomato Gratin Lunch 2011

A year is not as long now as it used to be. Twenty years ago, a year was a long-term relationship, seniority at Victoria’s Secret, enough time to become BFFs. Now it’s not even long enough to bother introducing myself to the neighbors or unpacking my wedding china.


Back then, a year was long enough to fall in and out of love six or seven times (sometimes with the same wrong boy, sometimes with several wrong boys), decide (for real this time!) to pursue eleven or twelve different careers, drape my ratty Uptown walkup in pretty fabrics and feel perfectly at home. I don’t remember giving a thought to the next place until a month or two before the lease was up. It didn’t matter — home was wherever I took my boom box and Pier One votive collection.


Now I’m here, my stuff is here, my family is here in this house, but I still don’t really feel like I live here. This is mostly my fault –I’m not invested because I’m too aware that we’re only here for a year. I’m almost 40 now, so a year is an entirely different unit of time than it used to be –longer than the time it took for my little peanut to complete preschool, kindergarten, and 1st-3rd grades combined, but not as long as it takes to stuff my Duchesses in their jackets, snowpants, hats, mittens (“I can’t find my ‘nother mitten, Mama!”), boots, and scarves before they tell me they have to tinkle. It’s just a year, I think to myself, so why bother doing much of anything except waiting for the next thing, the permanent thing?


I have never been good at living in the moment –I am forever looking way back or far ahead.


A disposable year …that’s how I’ve been thinking about it. Something like the mandatory canoe trip at camp every summer: it wasn’t a trip I would ever have chosen, I didn’t love every minute of it, but it showed me some rare, wild beauty and deepened my friendships with the other girls, so I was glad enough to have had the experience in the end.


Still, I liked it better looking back on it from the other side (that first post-canoe-trip shower was heavenly). Once it was over, I could fully enjoy the camp experience I had actually signed up for — sailing in adorable outfits with full hair and makeup in case one of the boys’ boats got close enough to see me, movies in Senior Lodge on rainy nights, and winning the extra scoop of ice cream with camp chocolate sauce in horsengoggle. And sitting out on the balcony of Clubhouse during cabin meeting with Liz, laughing our asses off because nobody knew where we were. And lying on my back in LT cabin singing “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles with Marlys and Betsy. Oh, and bagel dogs –I’d go back to camp just for those.


Camp…sigh …I digress.


I have never been good at living in the moment –I am forever looking way back or far ahead. I suppose that’s a hazard of being a creative writer-type; I need psychological distance from the events in my life before I can write about them (I’d be a horrible reporter). I get through whatever there is to get through and make sense of it later. Spending a few years in hell mode will do that to you, too.


It’s a good strategy for processing trauma and intensity, but when the whole family is sitting in a dark movie theater wearing 3D glasses, giggling at Madagascar III, I want to be there with them. When Julie comes over eating Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch out of a tupperware container to sit with me on my porch and ask where the hell the summer has gone, I want to be there with her.


Even though I didn’t actually sign up for a year in a rental house, I want to participate in this softer, easier time in my own life as its happening …as Brian and I are dating again, as I am reading novels and puttering in the kitchen and yard again, as a year –maybe for the last time– is once again stretching out for me into a unit of time long enough to feel perfectly at home, to be glad for the experience.



Biker Caroline 051711


Carrying something heavy isn’t in and of itself a painful thing. Really, the pain only comes as the weight is added or lifted, as bone and muscle shift to accommodate the burden or its absence.


Caroline had her first seizure about three and a half years ago. Since that moment, I have carried her condition and all that came with it –hours pulling her in a little red wagon in laps around the seventh floor of Children’s Hospital; combing glue out of her hair after every EEG; watching the anesthesiologist at Mayo carry her, woozy from a sedative, out of the nurses’ station to her surgery; unspeakable anxiety, loneliness, isolation; fighting for her, fighting with her, fighting just to remind myself I still could.


During the time this weight was first being lowered onto me, my heart registered each additional brick, reshaped itself to take the new pressure  –I’m sure all four of its chambers back then were small rectangular hospital rooms with IV poles and call buttons.


But now she’s doing well –extremely well, actually. She still has developmental delays and may never completely catch up to her peers, but she’s happy and musical and chirpy and affectionate. She can go to playground camp or school or Grandma’s house without my having to be with her the whole time. She still needs me, but she doesn’t need me so constantly. Good. Of course I say good.


But as this weight is finally being lifted, I’ve become aware of it again for the first time in a long time. My heart is already starting to remember what it once was, its natural shape, and has begun work restoring itself.  The IV poles have been wheeled into the hallway to be taken away, the call buttons are disconnected. One day soon those chambers will be familiar places again –a cabin at Camp Lake Hubert, GramBea’s Cooper Avenue house, my dad’s garden, my first apartment. I look forward to that, but while it’s under construction, it’s a big mess and hurts like hell.


My heart is already starting to remember what it once was, its natural shape, and has begun work restoring itself. 


The thing I worry about, the thing I have been worrying about as I pack to leave this house in a couple of weeks, is that even if this weight is one day completely lifted –even if my Caroline grows up and is able to drive, work, live independently, find love that fulfills her, and friendships that feed her –my heart and mind will not remember how to be without the weight of her illness and need. I worry that when the dust clears in the chambers of my heart, one of them will forever be a small rectangular hospital room with an IV pole and a nurse’s call button nobody ever uses.


As we have been looking at houses to potentially buy, we have seen some bizarre renovations and additions, evidence of people trying to adapt old houses designed for one kind of living to modern families committed to a new kind of living. I applaud the effort, really; I’m all about preserving the beauty and character of the past whenever possible. There’s something rather lovely about people determined to gently tug their old houses into the future with them. I like the idea but it has to be done so carefully, so expertly, to effectively reconcile what’s already there with what you want to build now.


But maybe I could do that as I tear down my hospital rooms. Maybe I could use the old bricks for a fireplace in the cabin, a patio at GramBea’s house, pavers in my dad’s garden, a thick kitchen wall in my old apartment. I would still be carrying them around with me as I have been, but on my terms, beautifully, a reconciliation of what’s already in my heart with what I want to build now. A heavy thing …but not a painful thing.