Compassion for a Stranger

My heart is breaking today for a woman named Zoë, one whom I’ve never met.

I found her music the day after my mother died from cancer in June of 2012.

When I couldn’t speak from the pain, when I wasn’t yet ready to remember the good times, I could listen to beautiful cello music, feel soothed, and gain perspective on the feelings which threatened to bury me.

There was something about this music–its dark qualities and deep heart–that struck a spark of recovery by what it evoked, extruded, and surrendered. It was music unlike anything I’d ever heard. It allowed me the loss and the full sweep of grief about my mom’s departure as it drew me back to reconnection with life and family.

A text I received today announced her husband has died.

Part of me wants to rail at the gods before I cynically confirm that there are no gods and never were.

I’m angry. Why her? Why him?

Why is a bad question to ask on the road to compassion. Why is a quagmire of non-acceptance. Why trumpets resistance and invokes bargaining.

A better question is how?

How can I, a distant stranger, do anything to ease Zoë Keating’s sorrow at the loss of her husband?

I don’t know that I can. But if you read this, and have room for one small act of compassion, please think of her and wish her comfort. Pray for her if that’s your style. Her loss is heavy. I wish it were different.

I teeter on the balance between anger and compassion, powerlessness to bring solace, yet wishing it fervently all the same.




To Sweet Language, Oh Muses Come

It’s an early Saturday morning and the dew is still moist upon the grass. The pond chorus of tree frogs sings in adulation to a watery sun, and I peruse Facebook writing groups and observe it; there among the memes, the shoutouts, and the sweet words, are comments sour, the signs of “muse abuse.”

My heart is shocked when I see it. It is no different to me then when I hear someone say something deprecating to a child.

My muse and I have a deep love and appreciation, much like a mother shares with her own baby as she pushes him about in the stroller, savoring alongside of him the every wonder of his first encounters with our beautiful, raucous, complex, glorious, hideous, estranging and elevating world. As mother, I am guide, interpreter and provocateur, but like good mothers everywhere, don’t mistake my cultivated calm and deliberately positive bent for something it is not. I know all about bad realities, and as mother, I can protect in an instant.

My baby hanging tough

My muse is like my beautiful son was as a baby. We lived, he and I, in a cocoon of affection so impregnable that no one could touch my opinion of how wonderful a child he was. He was sweet, original, intelligent, adorable and funny. He would place his little dimpled hands alongside of my face and look deep into my eyes through eyes devoid of any negative judgment. The love I felt for him opened wide all my capacity to love, taking it far beyond the limitations of romantic love and into that other territory of profound duty, nurturance, curiosity and respect. This is why I don’t consider my muse in the traditional, classical sense as one bestowing gifts or as some sort of pseudo lover. My muse is one enduring and dutiful, not one transient, fickle, or randomly assigned to me by whim. We are of each other.

When my son was young, I was extremely careful to balance both the teaching of skills with the reality of sharp observation and protection. It was my job to put him ahead of my own needs, in many cases, since he was young and vulnerable and could not do this himself. As he has grown in capacity, I have had to subside in the maternal loving and fretting department and let him be. I’ve had to assure him he is a decent and capable young man, one I love and admire for his many gifts, his wicked wits and his offbeat sense of humor.


Unexpectedly, in the pseudo empty nest of his–now vacated–stroller, a new occupant appeared: my muse. He has waited longer still for my love and care, my attention, and longed-for careful unwrapping from the thin tissue coverings that kept him safe until now. Yes, my muse is a him, for as I learned with my son, boys are, to me, the sublime combination of sweetness and truth, honor and ardor.

This muse that occupies the empty stroller is not here in my employ. He is a wanted thing, a waiting thing, who deserves time and attention, and I love and cherish him like my son. My muse is delightful but vulnerable. He is cute but can grow spoiled. He requires a strong hand to guide him best, but above all, just like my son, his efforts must never be criticized. Each blunt crayon scribbling is a wonder from the hands of a child or a muse. Each represents the slow acquisition of a skill. I must speak to my muse with love and reverence even when his efforts are neither lovely nor reverent. This is what it is to mother a muse; it is to hold in check the wells of unkindness deposited in each of us, to bring forth from the muse its singular half-breeds and original pairings, the fruits of its untrammeled and playful mind.


I’m asking you from the bottom of my heart–in case your muse should one day play with mine–that you consider your language. Does your language to your muse and about your creations invite the best behavior, motivation or product, or does it require some compassion and reconsideration? Will your muse be a positive influence or the type of playmate who is unfortunately not welcome for a second visit at my home?


I’ve found muses to be extremely loyal but highly skittish critters. As prey animals, they’ll run like mustangs at a hint of danger. My muse stays sweet by my side on a diet of love, respect, and curiosity and not on an empty rice straw fodder high in silica and hard on the teeth.