Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Water's Fine

For me, time divided in two twelve years ago.  BT and AT: before my partner Terence Freitas was kidnapped and murdered in Colombia, and after.  My friendships, projects, and interests from BT that weren't somehow swept along into AT dropped away.  I, myself, was caught in the current of grief and political action, and for many years, my main goal was keeping my head above water.  When I made it to the shore, there was, of course, no path back to BT, and the uncharted traverse between the two worlds often daunted me.

Terence Unity Freitas and Colombian indigenous U'wa leader Berito Cobaria in 1997, protesting LA-based Occidental Petroleum's oil drilling project on U'wa land
This summer, I've begun tentatively wading in the shallows of another river.  It is a river of words.  I finally, after years of being stuck about it, started to engage online.  I've been watching the words flow across my news feed, wall, reader, blogs.  The fantastic torrent of ideas and self-expression motivate me to action, and often to emotion.  I have cast forth my own musings into this tumble every so often, but always with trepidation.  I peer underneath the rocks lining the muddy shore for evidence of similar caution weighing down the words of others, and marvel in curiosity at how little there seems to be.

By writing these missives, reaching out for your friendship, commenting on what you post, and acting on it when inspired, I am belatedly learning to read the waters it seems the whole world became accustomed to navigating at some point AT.  At some point when I couldn't fathom pouring any more of myself into the public domain.  When I finally had something to say again, I scrambled to find the modern way to write it across the sky, and made this blog to broadcast it.  But I still didn't get the engagement part; I left the hundreds of emailed comments unanswered, building no community out of all those words.  I learned from that experiment that it doesn't suit the swimmer in me to keep wading in the shallows.

Last week I started responding to friend requests from people with whom I went to high school.  In so doing, I learned two important things:

1) our twentieth class reunion is this month, and

2) the traverse between AT and BT is not that scary.

My older son pulling our kayak back to shore
I passed on our tenth reunion, when the murders were so fresh that I had not a drop of small talk in me.  I cringed at the thought of my words dropping like heavy stones, sucking us into awkward silence.  But it's different now, twelve years out, and finding you again in these waters has helped me see that.  BT/AT, it's all me.  I'm back.  I've posted our shiniest family pictures, and I know that is what I am seeing of yours.  But that's okay.  Out here mid-stream, I can also see there is a lot more going on.  We are all vacillating between treading and surrendering to the flow.  In the end, the water's fine. 

How has time divided in two for you?  
How do you bridge the gap between before and after?  

I welcome your comments here on these pages.  I will respond. 


  1. Abbey- I am in the middle of my crossroads right now. I understand where you were at that point. Mine is restarting a career I wanted for most of my life but couldn't do for one reason or another. I am on the edge of a cliff about to jump off into the world I dreamed of for many years. Although my situation will cause some before and afters and will have consequences I hope and pray that things will be as smooth as possible. I look forward to talking with you on the 21st. God Bless! Merritt Sielski (Tilson)

  2. Merritt,

    Thank you for this comment. What a sweet spot you are in, the restarting of a dream career. Hats off to you for putting yourself out there and finding a way to live from deep purpose. It is courageous and I am inspired. Abby

  3. Oh Abby, first of all, I can't imagine your before and after... It's truly unfathomable to me. I have a before and after - before Ben and after Ben. We continue to struggle every single day with finding the joy. It's important to have the joy alongside the pain. I hate to say that I have mostly pain... But there is something heartbreaking about holding my own child (especially when he's naked because it's hot here), while he spasms and convulses and then looks at me with confusion before passing out. You'd think I'd get used it. But I'm not. This is a before/after that I'm not great at describing but wish I could. You are such an eloquent writer, Abby, and I really feel for you. I wish you had not had to go through BT. I mean I wish there didn't have to be such a distinction for you. You are extremely eloquent, and I thank you for that.

    1. dear abby,

      i looked for our contact list from mexico for your private email, but found you here instead. actually, i was stunned to be watching fierce grace this evening (for the 3rd time) only to realize that the person in the part that moved me the most previously was you (and ram dass). again, i wept at the depth of empathy when truth is felt so purely--when you shared terence's dream message and ram dass felt it and wept. the visit between you was and is such a gift, reminding me so clearly about the power of vulnerability and the audacious courage it takes to come into this life and to endure all that we endure in order for patterns to end, for healing to happen that leads to our liberation.

      recognizing you by surprise in a film i love transported me back to that day we headed out for our long walk along the rustic roads in the jungle mountains with the pacific ocean below us, sharing treats on the isolated beach and enjoying the welcomed boat ride back before the rains came.

      i was also transported to december, 2001, when my former lover, (who was also my and keith's best friend and our son's honorary uncle) was shot 7 times and died after much agony. woody was an environmental activist who had evidence of our governance's wrong doing and a sneak and peak visit by the fbi to his apartment was the catalyst for his demise. of course we formed a justice group and made quite a stink and there was much good that came of this.

      who knew in mexico that we have in common our lives shattered and hearts broken open by the senseless murder of a beloved intimate? for us it has been 10 years--and 3 years ago, another dear friend died tragically. he ended his chronic pain by ending his life.

      thank you, abby, for going with the river of words. thank you for being on fierce grace, for opening your heart to love again and sharing it in the many ways you do with the many beings you do.

      many blessings and much gratitude,

      of mary and keith

    2. Dear Mary,

      Thank you for these words! You are welcome. I am sorry to hear about Woody and your personal and community loss. After the murders it seemed like one of my biggest jobs was figuring out ways to keep the grief moving through me, back down into the earth. And to keep the love cycling back up and through. It felt like an elemental process that my body and heart were getting "worked" by. It felt bigger than my small self, and part of a whole. I took refuge in that understanding, and still do, when a wave of the love/grief barrels through. I felt it acutely again, a similar phenomenon, during the birth of both of my sons. I think that way of being worked is why I am so alert to the need to keep body and spirit clear/clean/flowing. So that I can ride the experience whole. It sounds from your reflections that you might have a similar experience! Nice to meet you again here in this way! Love, Abby

  4. Dear Catherine,

    Thank you so much for writing--both here and in your own blog (for other readers: I see you use your blog as a way of bridging the before and after, a way of bringing along as many people from before as you can. I see that as a survival strategy, a smart and brave one. Trusting your community like that.

    Your before and after is equally unfathomable to me, so unfathomable that I confess to not knowing what to say sometimes, the chasm seems so large. Your efforts to accept it all with grace from a place of wholeness are heartbreakingly human and real and inspiring. Of course you are not used to Ben's world. How could you be. I guess there is some realm of full acceptance that you probably catch glimpses of sometimes, and I guess it may ease things to find the way to that realm more and more often, but I honor the fact that you are on the journey at all, exactly where you are. I bow deeply to that love, and learn from it. Abby

  5. How has time divided in two for you?
    How do you bridge the gap between before and after?”
    -Abby Reyes

    Dear Abby,

    Toby was a redhead with a smile that could light up a room. I fell in love with her. She was driving us to the beach one summer morning when a drunk driver came across the centerline striking her VW bug head on. She died. When I woke up five days later and learned of her death time divided itself in two for me. I dropped out of the engineering program at UCLA and wandered. I was washing dishes for a living when I was drafted November 1966. My path before Toby died was over and the path I was on seemed empty and hopeless. It was hard to keep my head above water.

    The army paradoxically decided to introduce me to caring for others as a way of life. They sent me to Fort Sam Houston Texas for medical training. I loved being called “doc.” I loved knowing what to do when people were ill or injured. Fate kept me out of Viet Nam. Time passed and after serving my two years as an Army “doc” I worked in the UCLA Emergency Room as an orderly until I got into Medical School. I’m now a practicing ER doctor in Alaska.

    Through the practice of medicine, dedicating my life to caring for others I bridged the gap between life before Toby died and after she died. Each heartbeat gives me another moment of consciousness to experience compassion and kindness.

    During the years that passed I learned to cherish truth and non-violence through Martin Luther King and Ghandi. Also a beloved friend Judy taught me to meditate.

    What I learned is that the best bridge between past and future is to care for others, day by day, heartbeat by heartbeat, doing what we can to ease the suffering of the multitudes who share this moment with us.

    I’m an old man now, dear Abby and sometimes act foolishly. I hope you will forgive me if I’ve my words are an unwelcome intrusion into your world but I was so struck by the excellence of the questions you asked I felt compelled to answer.

    You also asked “…how do you stay open to change?”
    To this question, as a practicing ER doc where anything can come in the door at any time I give this answer - I pay attention, try to figure out what’s happening, here and now so I can do what I can to care for others. Everything is changing, all the time. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, what we do matters and can make things better.
    Thanks for asking good questions

    Ernie Meloche --

  6. Dear Ernie,

    Thank you for writing. I appreciate your story and hearing about your journey of before and afters. Not at all an intrusion, your words. I am honored that your reflections found their way here.

    I love this idea that paying attention in a deep way, being of service to others, lightening the suffering of others, can be the bridge between past and future. I have also found refuge and delight in the present moment that way. I think my mother taught me that by example, and then, when Terence was killed, and I was pressed up against the terror of the past and the unknowns of the future, service to others and paying attention to the present were mercifully available to me as strategy for walking that bridge. Later I learned about this approach as the bodhisattva way. You thank me for asking good questions. But I thank you for making the questions so much richer with your thoughtful telling. Abby

  7. Dear Abby,

    I just finished watching: Ram Dass Fierce Grace. Thank you for bringing grace to the film. After reading some of your blog I rejoice that you are finding the journey of this life meaningful.

    For me, there are so many befores and afters (age will do that to you). Thankfully, they all have a bridge of learning over the chasm of mystery. Currently I am learning what it is like to be a father to an adolescent daughter. Her name is Abbie :) I loved that the world revolved around us during the age of her innocence (before adolecence). We still have magical moments but now they happen much more on her terms. I am caught up in the feeling that there is still so much I have to share but now we are walking the bridge to after adolecence. Our relationship has not had this kind of test and the pathway is not clear. I am sure of my love as a father but I can no longer dictate the terms of our relationship. And yet, my heart aches for the tender hand of that sweet little girl. Living in the present is the answer but releasing attachment is no easy task.

    Cycling is my coping skill. I find much release and solitude. Last week I rode as the sun came up and I was spiritually fed by the beauty of the quiet country roads.

    Abby, I hope you find such beauty in your life.


  8. Dear Doug,

    Thank you for writing. I agree, "releasing attachment is no easy task." My sons are only 2 and 4, and I already wonder about how the blueprint of the relationships we may have in the future may already be getting sketched in how we relate now. Your post reminds me that there is actually no way to know what it will be like when they become young men, and that they both, as autonomous human beings with their own journeys, will shape it with me. The letting go required in parenting, I find, to be daunting. I cannot say that I have the knack of it yet! My mother was very disciplined throughout my adolescence to let me find my way to her. She kept her presence felt, and I eventually made my way back. We are now dharma buddies and good friends. I still rest my head in the crook of her arm.

    I am glad you enjoyed the film, and the grace. Thank you for your words and well wishes.


  9. My before and after surge like waves when I look for them , trip over them or hold them like one of my children . Some before and after are daily or weekly and subtle like dreams I remember , some rolling like waves of fortune braking over me and some like tsunamis shaking and taking me completely away and all my refinances change like the country side when driving down the highway . But my divisions are not as distinctly powerful and violent as yours was/is . I saw you with Ram Dass and was very moved , you both gave me another connection to it all , that truth that happens with a heart teacher/ing when you both seem not sure who is doing what and if there is even a divide like student and teacher . Thank you both for that moment , it was almost wrong to watch because you both gave so much there and it was so indescribably pure in my mind , thanks again for that bravery .
    I will add my little bit and say that my children's birth and watching my fearless partner give birth to them at home are one huge moment of division of before and after , but again I was watching . I was involved , but the real pain was not mine , just the empathy and wish to do what ever I could to help . My observation of life I do realize in my late 40's is because of my disability and a life time of pain/s of not being in the stream of normal it's highs and lows and that fortune and misfortune . I now realize the obstacle blessing of many things like that , the inevitable potential of pure love from pain and with that my true water mark the then & now of asking a Tibetan Lama to take me on as a student and the realization I do need a teacher and help from people . I could not and can not imagine life with out that BEING and the teachings and all my known and unknown sangha like yourself . It's a turning point when your heart opens and it is not really distinct , not really a then and now , at least for me . I am so blessed and wish you and all these wonderful people who have opened there hearts here to keep opening up there heart and gaining strength and Love . Bless you Abby , you are a Dakini .

    Lots of love ,
    John Tenbear Thompson

  10. Dear John Tenbear,

    Thank you for this comment. The surrender you describe (to a teacher, to the lack of divide between a then and now, etc.) is tender. You say you watch from the periphery, but your words read as though written from the center. Bless you, too, and thanks.

  11. Dear Abby,
    Like many other writers here, I too was profoundly moved watching your interaction with Ram Dass. It was as though the two of you were my dear friends, and we all were having a good cry, at our befores and afters. As I look back, I can see there are many places along my path that could be considered as defining moments, crushing, tearing apart, growing away, changing direction. But the standout of course was the lung cancer diagnosis in March of 2010. And I'm still here, after surgery (little one lung I call myself), four rounds of chemotherapy, and 10 treatments of radiation for mets in my femur. Yes, I eventually cooked up mets in other places, including my brain.

    Diagnosis came nine months into a beautiful and tender relationship. Even before word came down,(though we knew something big and ugly was likely on the horizon) I called him to let him know he was free to go. That I would understand completely if he did leave, that while I'd be lonely, I would only understand fully, and not be angry with him. Writing that, to a stranger, I see now that that moment was the demarcation, from 'before' leading to after. He said he was sticking by me through this, and I've not questioned his feelings for me, nor had any doubts about us.
    We're 'married' now (commitment ceremony; actually marrying would be financial disaster), though we live in two different places. You see, I had moved to this town because I caught a break, and I was so excited to be able to live here, to meet so many people (small town), go exploring in the national forests and the wilderness, be able to walk everywhere. I was training myself for a week in the wilderness when all this mess jumped at me.
    This mess has taught me patience. Taught me to be here now. To live unconditionally. Oh! I meant to write LOVE unconditionally, but that works. To love deeply and fully, to allow vulnerability, to open, to receive. A blessing? No, I wouldn't go that far, but I will say it has within all the confusion and pain and anguish, many gifts.
    To look at me, you wouldn't know, really, you wouldn't. And I'm one of those that chemo didn't turn into a "stick". Spend a few hours with me, you start to understand. Spend 24 hours with me, and you become fully aware of my situation. All this to say, I was following my heart on Netflix the other night, and having finished what the @!%$# do we know, Fierce Grace was suggested. And there you were, tender, and open and raw and beautiful. Thank you for that.

  12. Thank you, Pam. I am honored that you've shared your story here. A blessing no, but many gifts, yes. Mercifully, eh? Thank goodness for mercy.

    Be well. All's well here, deeply so. Write again.


  13. Abbey,
    I just watched you in Fierce Grace. What you shared about your dream made me cry tears of joy. It reminded me that we are always connected to our source and we are all connected to each other. It is our ego that forgets this sometimes while we are having this human experience :-)
    In my times of suffering, it has enlightened me and has brought me closer to that which connects us all.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. You have given me a great gift that is now a part of my being.

    -Ken Nercessian

  14. Abbey,
    I just watched you in Fierce Grace. What you shared about your dream made me cry tears of joy. It reminded me that we are always connected to our source and we are all connected to each other. It is our ego that forgets this sometimes while we are having this human experience :-)
    In my times of suffering, it has enlightened me and has brought me closer to that which connects us all.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. You have given me a great gift that is now a part of my being.

    -Ken Nercessian

  15. Abbey,

    I have so many stories to share with you -
    I just wrote a long one and it disappeared,
    which led me to read your other posts.. Now I'm swimming with too much to share and ask - so first: Thank you. I echo the many other sentiments about hearts being melted open by watching "Fierce Grace."
    (It is a required resource for the February 2014 Module of the Center for Sacred Studies Ministry of Prayer Program -which I'm a student)

    I have a story I'll share with you about my Dad who left his body on Nov 15th 2012. Actually you've inspired me to write a blog - but here is just a nugget of wisdom I received from the larger story: (with a bit of background)

    My dad was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer three years before he passed. Within two weeks I had moved home to CT from Oregon. I was given the particular suffering/gift of grieving both before and after he passed. I contemplated why some people die painlessly in their sleep a ripe 100, and other slow and painful, others quick and violent - why? Why my dad so young? Why would he not get to met my children if I (thank you in advance Creator) ever am blessed with them?

    This was the answer I received:
    You go when the time is ripe.
    The time is ripe when you have optimally effected
    the most people with love.

    This gave me faith. That my dad is dying at just the right time, weather or not I understand it, because the most people will be touched at his passing. (by not only his life as he lived it but by his story that will be carried forward) Look at all of these people Terence touched with his life - through the story and the suffering you shared with the world.
    What a gift.
    more soon,

    With much respect and many blessings to you,
    your work in the world and your family,

  16. Somehow it feels petty to write of a before and after of my own in the face of the before and afters others have posted. But having my fourth child ready herself to leave home after 26 years of parenting is a small "death" of its own. Please readers, don't be angry. I truly understand (to the best of my ability) the difference between a real death, a tragic death, and a figurative death. But yet the sorrow of this transition, however appropriate, is real. Just ask any mother. When my first left for college 8 years ago I cried a lot. My husband was perplexed. "Why are you sad," he would ask me? "He's doing what he's supposed to do and he's so excited?!" I'm not sad for him," I replied. " I'm sad for me. The beginning of an end to a relationship that was one way, and now we will have to learn to be another way. I don't know how and it frightens me." So now the last child prepares to fledge, and the fear tightens around my heart. Because now I KNOW that relationships with adult children are different, very different, and touch is gone, and daily communication is gone, and my role continues to confuse me. And not for nothing, but after 26 years, my husband and my relationship is hardly what it was. So much has changed. The daily business of work and children and meeting everyone else's needs has replaced the once easy business of meeting each other's needs. And I read above of others ready to leap back into a career that they have waited to begin and I wonder if there is anything meaningful left for me to do.

    So yes, it feels like a death, and I am sad, and words soothe me. My pain often intensifies when my family levels the accusation at me - "you use TOO MANY WORDS!" My words are how I make sense of things, and holding them alone has become too difficult. So thank you Abby, for writing of a river of words, and making it possible for me to speak of my pain quietly and perhaps, without fear of reprisal.