knowing a place

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a few weeks ago one of my stories was published on the blog our stories untold. it was a moment where i felt like i was living out one of my favorite quotes: 

i now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. -brene brown

as i do the dance of feeling the pain in order to let it go, i am grateful for all the people who remind me of love.

tomorrow marks 12 years since i miscarried when i felt and tasted and heard the love of people. i wrote the following piece almost two months ago and it seems fitting to give light to it today.

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knowing a place 

by kristin neufeld epp, august 2013

we drive through a town in missouri and the carload resounds:  oh, remember this place?  me: no, i don’t.  them: yes, look! that store with half the sign missing? me: nope. them: okay, look: that’s the parking lot where we saw that puppy?!?!  me: nnnnnope. them: yes! there’s the place we ate! you don’t remember? me: well…kind of.  yeah, i can imagine i’ve been there. them: but you don’t really remember? me: no. i don’t.

passing the restaurant, the parking lot, the place we ate, the tended empty park, the gateless ball diamond, the open funeral home, the closed bank, the flowers planted in an old bathtub, the worn houses spreading further apart at every moment, we approach the edge of town.

a seemingly nondescript building that might have housed a fix-it man back in the day is on the near horizon.

me: oh yeah! yes! now i remember this place!

them: what? now you do? why now?

me: i don’t know, but i do. 

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this morning i walked the same road my feet have hit at least 100 times before. i’ve felt every emotion on this road. and today i remembered the place. the place where joy and pain mingle. the place where peace and turmoil, like magnets, repel each other until turned. the place with post-funeral-like laughter through eyes relaxed from a work-out of grief. the place that is uncomfortable and dishonoring to itself. the place that is so compounded that the only way to know it is to hold it and work the layers. i know it. i’ve been here before.

this is like miscarriage. perhaps even more, this is like birth after miscarriage.

the relief of knowing it was felt in my throat, my belly, my heart. my mind gifted me with parallels.

the invisible loss. my smiles and jokes balanced with secret tears and wails. the body betrayal. the quiet knowing that i’m stronger now. falling into the holy of seeing my baby’s face and doubling over with grief of the dream buried under the apple tree. scrambling to keep the ties on everything untangled. the heightened awareness of what other people think and want. this is like living with an open wound hidden in plain sight.

i remember telling people, almost everyone who would listen.

i remember the stings: at least you weren’t that far along…at least you have a child already…it’s so common…at least you didn’t need a d&c…at least you have a supportive husband…it was probably for the best (if you know what i mean)…god has a plan.

i remember nodding in agreement…knowing the threads of truth. and behind the nods with gently raised eyebrows and slightly cocked head were screams that i would have given anything to be farther along so i could have felt my baby move. screams that i wasn’t sure how to love my other children in the face of such loss. screams that it being “so common” didn’t comfort me, it just added to the shame that i couldn’t get over it.

i remember the replies where people owned their tears…the salt staying off me: i’ve been there…i know…time will pass…it’s not your fault…there’s nothing you could have done…i’m different now…i’m stronger now…you can’t change the past, but you can heal…the answer may never be known…sometimes bad things just happen…every day is a choice…welcome to the club you didn’t want to join…you’re never alone…

i know this place.

i’ve traveled here for a lifetime with a heavy load on my back, one whose straps had familiar positions dented in my shoulders. a baby strapped to my chest crooning and perfect, giving and taking life, pulling sweet warmth from my chest, relieving pressure. a child holding my hand looking back leading me as often as i’d let her. a tree planted that we would eat from in the coming months. a body bleeding out memories, the red too shocking to look at.

i remember the landmarks of smiling to hide defeat, embracing the prickly mystery of god, cushioning it with a blanket of fear, dabbing the wounds quickly so no one would see them, stumbling to respond to “how are you?”, wanting to make the story worse to solidify it, wondering what lesson i needed to learn, what flaw was being showcased, swallowing deep gratitude with betrayal. i stopped at all those, i knew them without knowing how well i knew them. i had known them most of my life.

this is like that.

i want to tell…almost everyone who will listen…and there have been awkward spurts of sharing when the eight and nine and twelve year old in me took over.

i’ve already told myself the replies that sting:  at least it wasn’t rape…so many kids had it worse than you…at least your parents believe you…at least your offender apologized…you have everything any victim would want…look how amazing it made you…this is why you’re a great preschool teacher…god knew what he was doing…all things happen for good.

i’ve been here before, I know the truth in those statements…but this time I choose not to just nod. I give voice to the screams that all lead back to angry, sad, complicated, confused, scared, shame filled, bone deep grief. 

i remember how it was.

so i’m taking a different route through town. finding new landmarks, noticing places worth hanging out at, places worth walking past, folks to wave at, some to sit with, all to learn from. i could ramble and wander forever here or sprint a shortcut through yards ferris bueller style or walk slowly and pay attention. no matter.

all routes will lead to the main drive, the one that approaches the seemingly nondescript moments, the one that creeps to the edge of town.

the edge where i finally recognized where i was.

and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – t. s. eliot

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photo show

if it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.
-seth godin

mojos
my photos are up in mojos, a local coffee shop. the idea scared me. and it excited me. i “tried” it by thinking about it. then i did it.

i love my pictures. the slants and high contrast and focus. i remember taking each of them. i remember my thoughts. i have a story for each summed up in a word or two.

choosing them and printing them off was like pulling cupcakes out of the oven. affixing them to mats was like frosting. adding text to them was like sprinkles. then i loved them even more. i took pictures of my pictures. i smiled at my favorites. i felt the tender pangs looking at others.

photo of photo

carrying them in to the shop was scary. i resisted the urge to discredit them. i felt awkward and giggly. i remain grateful to have had friends help hang them. i said i felt like an imposter. i was encouraged and nudged and referred to as “the artist formerly known as kristin.” when i wanted to take a picture of the college boys sitting in a booth with my photos, my friend fake posed so i could hide behind my shyness a bit. i filled out my skin while i covered walls as the evening went on.

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going in for the first time was scary, like nervous stomach diarrhea scary. i felt exposed and shy and proud and excited all at the same time. deep breath, stand tall, smile at the things you love.

i had dreamt that all the photos fell off, was reassured that they were fine. but when i went for the first time panels started literally falling off the walls. another friend took me to the hardware store for the tiniest, longest nails we could find. we went around and hammered two nails into each panel while people were milling about.  do it, she told me.

claiming my work with pounding interruptions.

claiming a part of me that i love knowing that even if i would be the only one who loves it, it is worth loving.

the artist formerly known as kristin

she left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went.
it’s easier to feel the sunlight without them, she said.
-brian andreas


all photos in the show can be found on instagram: kristin1973 Screen shot 2013-08-28 at 10.00.11 PM
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rocks

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on march 22 i walked the dirt road and paused to build a cairn. on this road made of rocks, i built one three high. on this road worn down by years of cars and tractors and semis, i chose … Continue reading

lessons from the hunt

we set out to collect abandoned railroad spikes with the quiet hope of finding one of those greenish glass marble like balls. i was schooled this day by my son.

we ate first at the restaurant “closest to our house if we are riding down main street” and then headed to the tracks.  these are quiet tracks and i gave the same rules, hopes, plans and boundaries as always. we walked collecting spikes. i had a backpack and once they picked up 3-4, they could put them in my pack. eliza was a quiet and steady companion, absorbed and uncharacteristically content with a seemingly mundane task.

at one point i got a strong but dull awareness that i’d never walked this stretch of track before. i’d been beyond it and i’d been behind it, these are the same tracks that are half a block from my family’s home. but in 26 years i’d never been on this stretch…the stretch between main street and sand creek.  i asked the kids if they felt weird being here, if they felt like something was wrong, if it felt like we shouldn’t be here.

micah says,
“well yeah, it feels like we shouldn’t be here
because we’ve never been here before.”

lesson one.

we walk on really quietly, picking up spikes, noticing abandoned buildings, listening for dogs, guessing on what is causing the rustles in the woods. then we start talking about how cool it would be to actually find one of those glass balls. we’ve heard different theories on what they are, but we know they can be found around the tracks. we talk about how rare they are, how old they are and then bam. there it is. a perfect air bubble filled greenish glass ball, chipped and worn in spots.

micah says,
“we were just talking about it and we found it…
that means we should always talk about what we want.”

lesson two.

my heart swirled with the gift of learning, we got back to our bikes, cinched up the back pack, and i heaved it on. the weight of it made me wobble and giggle and feel foolish.

i weighed it when we got home: 44 pounds of spikes and 1 hand warm of glass ball.

stopping still for one second

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as a teacher, i invite children to 32 seconds of stillness every day. we listen to an old woman in japan sing a lullaby about carp. sometimes children sit. sometimes they curl up on their sides. sometimes the lean right next to me. sometimes they lay on top of me. sometimes they spend half their time running to turn off the lights. sometimes they spend the entire song gathering blankets and pillows for themselves.

we almost always do another 32 seconds…she sings for us again…and then, then there is maybe one second where we are all still at the same time. bliss.

i have an image that has landed in my mind regularly for years. i imagine the world getting pulses of peace. a simple moment where everything is Right. i believe in it. i want it. i wonder if it has ever happened. i wonder if it is happening the moment the thought comes. the possibility of global rest makes me giddy.

finding this poem tonight brought those two things to mind…now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still. ahhhh…

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

morning to remember

morningporch.
half circled by children
tinny banjo uke sound
coffee hot
sunglasses found
fog just lifting
sun just shining
strangers biking past
flowers hiding in buds
birds calling
more birds calling
roosters practicing crows
hens cackling

then house.
dim
cool
airy
swept
ready

good morning, morning.

being a mother making sense

i loved being pregnant, smooth and round, noticed and full.
i loved labor, predictable and interesting, surrender calling me and hot water.
i loved birthing my babies, like fish flapping and cool breeze, eyes closed but seeing it all.
i loved nursing, tingling and release, sustaining and sweet.

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more and more i understand why. they were times when so much made sense. they were times when my body did work without me even trying to help. they were times when focus was inevitable, pain was normal, naps were essential, water tasted amazing, bumps and lumps were the beautiful evidence of life.

paper dolls and cloud babies

i love these children who came through me.
further more, i like them.

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as these people grow older, i find myself watching them more. they don’t need me like they used to. i’m a bit farther back so i can see the slight raise of their eyebrows, the way they move their arms when they walk, the moment they notice a bird in the tree, the information they discover on their own, the technique to tie their shoes, where the water hits when carrying a full bucket.

to say i’m grateful to be their mother feels like i’m only scratching the surface.  like showing the vastness of the ocean with a thimble of water, the magic of a forest with a single leaf.

but under the surface is the quiet, deep knowing of the gift it is to simply watch the moments of their lives happen. happy mother’s day.

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(all photos circa 2008…a time so much different than today)

simplicity and bounty

the simplicity and bounty of eliza’s birthday party seems in horrific contrast to the events of the world.

e's farm party

but i want to be at ease living in both worlds.
or maybe it’s walking down the middle of the two;
dipping in and out while coming back to center.
the hungry and the overfull.
the pure life energy and the dullness of lacking.
the carefree moments and those of fear.
the fire burning because we wanted it and the rubble that is left.

e's farm party

dipping in and out of all of life is where it’s at.

and on this day the backyard is where it was. eliza invited school friends for a backyard party with the chickens and the lambs.

these kids all attend the walton school and many of them live on farms.

e's farm party

when wanting to catch a certain chicken they didn’t call for the “brown one,” the called for the “buff orpington.” they didn’t call for the “black and white” one, they called for the “barred rock.”

e's farm party

they were kind and never complained about playing outside even in cool damp weather.

e's farm party

e's farm party

neighbor bunnies came and were almost impossibly cute.

e's farm party

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e's farm partye's farm party

having one child say, “mrs. epp, this is the best food i’ve ever had” made me feel like i was in another time period.

 
(and yes, there is a chicken on the table)

e's farm party

it was a family event:  naomi tied strings on all the donuts, micah and a friend hid eggs for a hunt, jerry grilled burgers and impromptu grilled cheeses, i was “in chawg because i know how to explain things so kids know what i mean.”

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e's farm party

and when things resorted to piggy back rides, i felt AGAIN like it was another time period.  
such simple fun.

e's farm party
the day began and ended with gratitude for the joy. thank you, friends.
e's farm party

couldn’t resist the lens

sun on ice

if yesterday’s gift of ice-enclosed reality wasn’t enough, when the sun rose with no clouds to cover it, our land shimmered.

the before-school chicken choring turned to ice exploring. i resisted getting my camera, chose to soak it all in with them. committed myself to seeing it without a plastic lens. but then our friend found something i didn’t know was possible:  a piece of grass sticking out the ground directly beneath the garage awning was all fat-worm like.

“that’s it kids, i’m getting my camera!”


micah kept the youngers off it and then the seeing through another lens began.

mama, a frozen acorn!
listen to this (ice falling off a kicked fence)!
no way!

sun on icesun on ice

the final moment before loading up my son for our daily just-the-two-of-us trip to school, he sent the basketball into the net.

and it stuck. his laughter was a day-changer.

and while i don’t tuck the film in a paper envelope and write my personal information on the provided lines or close myself in the dark room at the high school with the smells that can only come from there, i do have the few moments of taking out the memory card and connecting cord to computer to see what i thought i saw.

sun on ice

by the time preschool started, the cracking and dripping began.

sun on ice

sun on ice

with leg strong and nimble, we kicked our way through a 15 minute ice demolition celebration.

sun on ice

by the afternoon there was cracking and melting that mimicked a rain shower.

it’s like we know the earth is alive!  indeed we do.

the definitions of frozen

frozen
adj

1. rendered immobile
2. motionless or unyielding
3. preserved
4. kept at a fixed level
5. impossible to withdraw

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welcome, april 10. i didn’t expect you like this.