My Anthem

October 17, 2016
USA, USA stories
My Anthem new mexico

I have forty five minutes to myself while my twelve-year-old foster child is in counselling. I have committed this rare alone time to writing – my outlet – one I’ve been sorely deprived of since she arrived two months ago. Attempts to become a family with a scared, angry, displaced child have taxed my fifty-year plus self more than I could have imagined, and the toll on my spirit has shocked me.

I had picked up my laptop from the repair shop, ensuring to check that my newly installed battery was fully charged so I could head to a nearby park and write. I compulsively check my watch when I arrive at the park to see how much time I have left to myself, I’m down to twenty five minutes. I rush to a bench and discover that my computer won’t run. I stare at a black screen full of computer gibberish, my heart simultaneously pounding and sinking. The lifeline I had been clinging to slips through my fingers. I call the shop, and am informed the technician has left for the day, and I think to myself, does this man ever work?

Attempts to become a family with a scared, angry, displaced child have taxed my fifty-year plus self more than I could have imagined, and the toll on my spirit has shocked me.

Transferring my attention to my phone, I check my email and there is one from my best friend who moved four provinces away a couple of years ago. My heart clenches with how much I miss her, how much I need her right now. She writes that she was looking through pictures and found one from one of our shared travels and sends me the song that’s associated with the memory. I listen to the first verse and am immediately transformed from an overwhelmed, over burdened parent to a person of solidity and strength. My spirit comes back to me from the lyric I hear.

We had taken a trip together to New Mexico, both of us leaving partners behind to revel in shared time and our common taste of adventure. Landing late at night at the Albuquerque airport, we were shocked and delighted to find that our economy rental car was actually a lime green Mustang complete with hologram mustangs that shone on the ground whenever you opened the doors. One of our many adventures during this ten day trip was to drive out to Christ in the Desert Monastery, situated at the end of a rutted red dirt road suitable for four by fours, Hummers and goats. Our mission was to taste beer at a monastery. In addition to facilitating prayerful retreats, the monks have kept their livelihood in beer.

On the drive out we saw a worn red sign, which once perhaps fifty years ago held a notice board, a poster perhaps, something. Now it was just a weathered red board that someone had scrawled the iconic lyric from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. Seeing this lyric sprawled on a disused worn sign results in a sudden teleported sense of home. Every Canadian worth their salt recognizes an iconic Cohen lyric (or ought to!). We were flanked by a meandering slow moving river to our left, hoo doos to our right, and the seemingly never-ending dirt road stretching before us as we stared at the words we had grown into adulthood with.

We continued to inch towards the monastery. Parking at the retreat house, we walk the labrynith and then follow the foot path to the monastery glancing at the Catholic stations of the cross along the way. Beer, not prayer was on our minds, but any access to libations requires advanced bookings a rule the friendly monks don’t deviate from. We head back out along the road, slowing to a crawl to offer help to the three muscle bound men who are dealing with the flat tire on their four-by-four jeep. They studiously ignore our offer, and we roll up our windows, blare our tunes once again and cackle with unbounded mirth that our incongruous vehicle is steadfastly making its way forward while they are marooned.

Become willing to be broken and you will discover your light. My anthem.

It’s this adventure her email tugs forward in my memory bank, one pearl on a string of many. But it is Cohen’s words that bring a quick spat of tears as the protective casing surrounding my heart shatters, leading me back once again to my life energy. I recognize the truth to his words, the surrender. Become willing to be broken and you will discover your light.

My time is up, time to step back into the thorny navigation of parenting a resistant, traumatized preadolescent. And for the first time in weeks I feel able. I move forth, grateful for the infusion of memory of another time and grateful for a friend who like a champion archer can sink an arrow in the centre of my heart when I need it most.

My Anthem photo credit: Tom Pratt

About Susan Armstrong

Susan ArmstrongSusan Armstrong has been traveling the world since she was twelve years old. She equally enjoys going to a “new to her” locale in her area as well as more exotic locations such as Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands. At home her career has always been in the non-profit world, most often working as a therapist or instructor specializing in trauma. This is her first time full time parenting.

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