Monday, May 09, 2005


My book group just finished reading Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. It is the concurrent account of the author’s mother’s battle with breast cancer and record rise in the Great Salt Lake, which puts her beloved bird refuge under water.

As a birder and someone interested in women’s health, I approached the book with mixed emotions. Yes, here were two topics I’m passionate about intertwined in one narrative. On the other hand, neither narrative promised to be particularly uplifting.

To my delight, the book’s message was one of renewal and restoration. Yes, habitat is lost. Yes, the mother dies. But along the way we readers are treated to many moments of choir-volume epiphany and quiet wisdom in three generations of independent and spiritual women.

I organized the book group meeting and posed to our members the question, “What is your refuge?”

In answering it myself I was struck by the difficulty of the question. Ten years ago I could easily have rattle off refuges: bird watching, running, reading, discussion and debate with my spouse, music. Now the best I could do was the occasional bath.

That’s not to say my immediate family isn’t still my refuge. I think my spouse is the most constant refuge I’ve had for the near-12 years of our marriage. In the right circumstances, my children are a refuge, an excuse to focus on the present and delight in the world through their eyes. Under other circumstances, of course, they become a major part of the reason I need a refuge.

And my birth family is a refuge in its own way. I have spent 2 years in therapy working through a lot of anger I have at them. For that reason I especially noticed the degree to which Tempest Williams’ family was a refuge for her. It reminded me that for all their flaws, my parents still offer me a safe haven I can’t find anywhere else. It was a valuable thing to remember.

But, women, listen up here to the dialogue between the author, her grandmother (Mimi) and her mother (Diane):

“At thirty-eight years old, I found I had breast cancer…For the first time in my life, I started to be fully present in the day I was living…I believe that when we are fully present, we not only live well, we live well for others.”

Mimi questioned her, “Why is it then, Diane, that we are so willing to give up our own authority?”

“It’s easier,” I interjected. “We don’t have to think. The responsibility belongs to someone else. Why are we so afraid of being selfish? And why do we distract and excuse ourselves from our own creativity?”

“Same reason,” Mother replied, “It’s easier. We haven’t figured out that time for ourselves is ultimately time for our families. You can’t be constantly giving without depleting the source. Somehow, somewhere, we must replenish ourselves.”

I agree. Which is why I am going to work at recreating some of my refuges. In fact, I went birding yesterday, as a Mother’s Day request to my family. They obliged and the four of us walked through the Arboretum together on what has to have been the nicest spring weather yet this year. My effort was rewarded with the remarkable sighting (thanks to some kind Audubon Society members who tipped me off and pointed me to the right spot) of a Western Tanager. In Michigan!

And as I approach balancing the demands and comforts that are my parents, I resonate to this T.S. Eliot quote that appeared in a recent New Yorker:

There’s no vocabulary
For love within a family, love that’s lived
But not looked at, love within the light of
All else is seen, the love within which
All other love finds speech.
This love is silent.

Belated Happy Mother’s Day. Go find your refuge.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your blog is very cool. I am considering doing one too, but I am curious, do you every worry about cast members in your blog reading it? I mean this sincerely, I haven't read all of your posts obviously, so far nothing appears potentially volatile but I have read some other blogs and me thinks that if someone recognized themselves in the blog they might get a little, ummmm pissed? Do you worry about that?

1:27 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

I do worry. In fact, I am now worried that you are someone I've written about who is pissed at me. If so, I am sorry.

If not, the answer is still that I worry. I take care to disguise clients so that others would not readily recognize them, even if they would recognize themselves. Unless, of course, they have given me permission to share their identities.

In fact, I pulled a post (and wrote about it at because it contained unpermitted photographs of a client's birth (even though the client was nowhere identifiable).

I think you are confronting what all writers face, which is the cost of being true to their writing. I read author interviews a lot and most of them get in trouble with their families. I'm not lumping myself in with the likes of Michael Chabon or anything, but I know there is that censor in the back of my head checking everything I write for its "approval factor." Indeed, now that I have blog associates, I worry about their reactions, too.

Fortunately the relative anonymity of blogs makes it easier, for me at least, to write honestly. In fairness, however, I should disclose that my parents do not, to my knowledge, know about this blog (unless you are my dad). It would change everything -- on my end, if not the final product -- if they read it.

A very long a rambling response to your question. I hope it helps.

Thank you for visiting and commenting!

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen here young lady, I am not your father ;) And nope, I am not one of your characters in your blog, nor have I ever met or conversed with you on any level other than the post I previously made. I hope you find that reassuring, and nope, you are not on restriction for talking back. I work in the birth profession as an educator and a doula and I train birth professionals. I like reading your posts and I admire your candor, I don't think I can do it and be "out". It could threaten my professionalism because I have some pretty intense thoughts and feelings that wouldn't be too hard for anyone who knows anything about me to piece together. I would love to blog them and hear other people's input, but I am afraid!

So, I will continue to pop in on you on occasion and live my blogging life vicariously through you and others like yourself, thanks for that!

11:25 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

O.K. I believe you're not my dad! (or are you? Nah. He never calls me "young lady;" at least not since that time he caught me with a cigar and bustier. Just kidding)

At least feel free to vent your intense feelings here in the form of comments. I appreciate hearing from other folks who might read the site. Otherwise it's like saying something at a party or meeting and having everyone else just stare at you!

9:02 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home