I came across this essay while pulling a manuscript together. It was written in the spring of 2009. I’ve left Flagstaff and come back twice since then. I love this place – and since I ride my bicycle almost everywhere I go, my relationship to Flagstaff has changed from when I drove everywhere. I’ve slowed down, I notice more. Having place, being in this place, is a rich experience.
New things are OK, but new places are even better. Bill Plotkin, author of Nature and the Human Soul, says that soul is a place where we reside, not a thing that resides in us. We must find our place. When we are displaced, it is sharp and painful.
My soul moves a lot. It is in New York City, then, it’s here in Flagstaff, it’s onstage creating an outpouring of music, it’s in bed with my lover, in a yoga studio, on the mountains. It goes to Buenos Aires, Peru, Costa Rica, the South of France, Ireland, Prague, Morrocco.
My body hasn’t caught up to all the places my soul goes.
Lately, I believe my soul has been hanging out with Amit, my seven year-old sponsor child who lives in Northern India. I’ve been Amit’s sponsor mom for three years. He is a lovely little boy who is beginning to smile more easily in the pictures Children International sends to me. His skin is the color of terra cotta; his eyes are so large that they open his whole face. His lips are tiny, like a little heart.
Amit’s birth mother sends me letters – telling me Amit is too young to write. He colors pictures for me. His favorite color is red. I have not sent any pictures of myself to Amit, though it has recently occurred to me that he might enjoy that. I wonder what he would think of my red hair.
If it is true that a photograph steals your soul, then, I will happily send mine to India.
The Earth says have a place/be what that place requires. (William Stafford)
I have not been to many places in the world. I’ve never left North America. I am soon moving to Boulder, Utah, population 180. I will be living among Mormons and Buddhists. My lover and I will be apart for seven months. Then, I will go to another place.
My soul has moved to another place and I’m not sure where it is.
How many times have I said I’m sick of this place! I’m done! I’m tired! What if I turned around and nurtured a place – really paid attention to it and loved it? Would it love me back?
When I first came to Flagstaff, the mountains fascinated me as I drove east on 89 toward home. Wow! You don’t see this everyday! Now I’ve lived here for a little less than two years, and I barely notice them. I notice cars, traffic, bad drivers, the budget, Jillian Ferris Cole announcing that I am listening to KNAU.
There’s a quality of honesty when a place is new, when I am a stranger.
Sometimes a place simply requires us to leave.
How permeable is place? One of my teachers, Swami Swaroopananda, says that our souls become fully formed on Earth when we turn about 35. Before that, we aren’t completely here – we are still working with karma from past lives. Once are souls are grounded, we need to live our lives more profoundly, making new meaning for ourselves.
Place requires us to be conscious.
I made the conscious decision not to have children. Last August, I had my tubes tied. When I met the doctor who performed the procedure, she assumed I already had children. I simply ran out of time prior to meeting her to fill out the page that asked, How many pregnancies carried to term? She described the procedure and I had two weeks to think about it.
I came prepared with a list of reasons for not wanting children.
- Carbon footprint – the world has enough humans.
- I can’t afford a child; I can’t afford myself – I live a very simple, minimal life, yet I am in debt.
- I believe if people are going to have children, they should have only one. I know enough people who have more than two, therefore, my allotment is taken.
- I believe there is a possibility of insanity in my family that is genetic.
- I’ve played the role of parent to too many people already—now I need to take care of myself.
I had the list down and I didn’t have to use it.
A few months earlier, I saw a popular gynecologist in town. I took off of work in the middle of the day. I waited for 45 minutes past my appointment time amongst exhausted mothers hushing crying babies in one arm, holding onto snot-covered toddlers with the other arm, and shifting their sore pregnant bodies uncomfortably from one position to another.
When I was called from the waiting room, I was weighed while wearing three layers of jackets and a sweater and a pair of boots. Then, I waited another ten minutes for the doctor to arrive. Posters of smiling babies with bright mothers hung on the office walls. Several parenting magazines featuring cherubic cuties on the covers were next to my chair.
I was in the wrong place.
Still, I bravely told the doctor I was there for a routine check-up and to discuss what a tubal ligation would entail.
She clenched her teeth, “You don’t want that.”
I gave her my top reasons for not wanting children. She practically covered her ears. Her eyes narrowed. She pushed a new form of IUD when I refused the pill, said I hadn’t met “Mr. Right” yet and closed the discussion.
She left the room. Even though I felt like telling her off, I stayed for the examination. I got undressed, put on a paper robe, sat on the exam table and waited. She came back into the office chattering away about her two girls. She never stopped talking about them during the exam, which was quick and rough. She never stopped to say, “I’m inserting the speculum now, I’m taking a pap sample now . . .”
I wanted to ask her who was raising her children while she was at work.
Tearing the top of my paper robe for my breast exam, she noticed my mala beads. While pressing my breasts and squeezing my nipples she smiled tightly and mentioned she did yoga. I told her I was a teacher and that I practice my mantra with my beads.
Feet still in stirrups, top half of my body entirely exposed, she thrust her hand out for me to shake. “Nice meeting you. If you’re interested in an IUD, give me a call.”
I felt the pinch of politics of this place.
I wanted to tell her to go to hell, but I could not because she was a friend of a friend. I was in a daze of anger when I left her office. I had to concentrate on driving carefully and politely.
When I finally had the procedure, my lover came with me. He held my hand until they wheeled me away.
The anesthesiologist was a kind woman. She looked at us approvingly. “Honey, before you go to sleep, I want to hear you say, ‘No more babies.’”
Huh? Oh yeah. “No more babies.”
They were taking care of me. I let them. I felt like they practically cooed at me before I surrendered.
Be what the place requires.
What if my place is my body?