Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Two of Wands, The Ten of Swords and The Four of Disks

April 9, 2018: Two of Wands by Mary Allen

The two of wands is my current card of the month. It has been for a few months now because for various reasons Tania and I haven’t been able to write about our cards and pick new ones. Tania’s mother died at the beginning of January.  I fell and broke my shoulder on February 17 and I’ve been dealing with that ever since; I had shoulder replacement surgery on March 14. I have to wear a brace until the end of April so I still can’t type with two hands and right now I’m using the voice recognition on my computer to write this. During all that time I’ve had the two of wands sitting on my mantelpiece and I’ve been wondering what it could be saying to me. I’ve also thrown the cards a couple of times and gotten the two of wands in those readings.

My first thought about the two of wands is that in the Thoth deck it looks like bones—two bones crossing—even a tiny bit like the shadowy broken bones in the x-rays of my shoulder. (Ha ha:  Here’s what the computer voice recognition did with “Thoth deck” and what I said after it:  The fuck deck fuck the heck ha ha Tania said pickles the fuck Dexter fuck Dick.) 

In the Rider Waite deck the two of wands shows a man in a red cape and astrakhan hat standing between two wands anchored in the ground on either side of him; he’s holding the world and gazing off into a distant vista of water and mountains and trees. At one point, when I was sitting in my recliner, idly staring at this version of the two of wands (I have lots of time to idly stare around the room these days), it came to me that it might be saying something about carrying the world on your shoulders and being forced to put it down. Angeles Arrien says the two of wands is about balancing inner and outer power.  This time is teaching me many things about personal power, where it begins and where it ends.  Mostly I’ve learned we have a lot less of it than we imagine we do.   And there’s another kind of power that comes in accepting that.

I read online this morning that the two of wands is the card for partnerships, two people working together successfully, and that makes sense to me in terms of what’s been going on since I’ve had this broken, trying-to-heal shoulder. In October my old friend John came from Washington, DC, with the idea of trying out Iowa City to see if he wanted to move here. He was going to find a place to live but in the end he just ended up staying with me, and when I broke my shoulder it seemed like a miracle to have him here in my house. He’s had to help me in all kinds of ways and he’s done it graciously and generously and without complaining.  In the beginning I couldn’t get into or out of bed by myself—it turns out it takes two shoulders to get in and out of a bed, although I can do it now and I still have only one working shoulder.  

But in the beginning I had to call his name at four o’clock in the morning and he would be in my doorway instantly, come around my side of the bed, take my hand and help me get up so I could go to the bathroom and take another Percocet. One night when the pain was especially bad he sat on the edge of my bed and read me an essay by Emmett Fox.  He read another one to me the first night I had to sleep in the recliner after surgery—we stayed up till one in the morning in my living room, him lying on the couch across from me, reading aloud in the lamplight.  (I slept in the recliner for eight days, then moved to my bed, where I recline every night on a huge nest of pillows.  John says I’m like the princess in the Princess and the Pea.)  He’s cooked for me and done the dishes and brought my laundry down to the basement.  For the first two weeks after the surgery I had to stand there in the kitchen while he taped Press and Stick Glad Wrap over my shoulder and upper arm so I could very carefully get into the bathtub and wash my hair without getting my bandage wet.

Everything has felt shaky and tentative ever sense I slipped on the ice without warning, crashed to the sidewalk, and found myself in this incredibly vulnerable, trapped, and painful place. I could never be doing it without John here. Now he mainly has to take my brace off so I can go in the bathroom and carefully change my shirt—I wear tops my friend Anne made for me, with snaps on the left shoulder for easy removal and replacement.  When I’m finished changing I stand in the middle of the kitchen floor and John helps me back into the brace.  He adjusts the straps, pats me on the back, and says, “Now you’re ready to go out into the world and do stuff.”  

It’s a joke, of course. I can’t go out into the world right now. All I can do is sit and hold the world in my hand, stare out my window at the house across the street and the gray sky and the bare tree branches, and wait for spring to come. 

April 9, 2018: Ten of Swords, Four of Disks by Tania Pryputniewicz

When Mary and I pulled cards in January just two weeks after my mother died, I pulled the Ten of Swords, “Ruin” with its image of ten sword handles ringing the periphery, points poised to pierce a central heart, the main and thickest sword breaking apart. I didn’t want that card for the month and tried a Mary tactic: I chose a second card. I’m grateful Mary has taught me it’s ok to do so. You could interpret the action conversationally a number of ways, as if saying to the Tarot deck, “I don’t want this card,” or, “Show me another version of the same message,” or “Can you give me a different lesson right now?”

So I pulled the Four of Disks—a relief! But since I couldn’t entirely let go of the memory of having pulled the Ten of Swords, I kept both cards out all month. And both spoke to me as is often the case. I love Angeles Arrien’s phrase for the Ten of Swords, “Fear of ruin,” specifically love (the heart image) and finances (the scales at the top).

In the evaporative state following my mother’s passing, I lost confidence, certainly retreating from the world with a bruised heart, more prone to succumbing to fears in a Ten of Swords way, passing through the initiation of a myriad “firsts” as a motherless daughter—everything, from sleeping to cooking—no task too tiny to haul up the free-floating anxiety: Here I go into another part of my life without my mother. The hospice nurse forewarned us that it is natural to take for granted the loving net of mother presence. And then all of a sudden, she said, When you lose her, you wonder, “Can I do this without her?”

In counter to that worry, the Four of Disks in the Thoth Deck (aptly named “Power”) never fails to give me a feeling of serenity. We see a structure made up of four linked towers ringed by a moat. There’s a wide sunlit path leading to a shining golden inner courtyard. I experience that sunny safe feeling here in our Southern California home which is situated on the bend of the street, backyard sanctuary where I write ringed by tall fence boards. In the front yard, we enjoy perpetual summer: the yellow rosebush blooming and a blueberry bush offering up its blueberries all year long.

The smallest actions are the ones that heal the heart gradually, nothing fancy. Like walking in the late afternoon sun in the San Diego desert, stepping around boulders, lizards fleeing, turkey vultures wheeling overhead as my youngest scampers up and over the boulders. My middle son uses a rock to chalk a giant treble clef, claiming his love of music. My husband hikes ahead and uses his phone to look up the names of the peaks surrounding us.

I don’t mind hiking nameless hills as long as I’m with my family. I can handle this level of visibility in my role as a mother. It’s easier than the daughter-self haunting me at night, the way the dreamtime I used to love is just another time during which unwelcome and unanticipated questions rise: You lost your mother…where is she now? And I wake crying from Ten of Swords dreams replaying it all back to me, still burning off the scenes of my mother suffering as we cared for her the best we could.

Better the waking world of agency, gradually overlaid with present activity, where I sand down our rusting mailbox, primer it, and fend off my husband’s suggestions for how to do the job. I kindly remind him I’m the daughter of a piano tuner/wood-worker, and carry on, tape off the bronze medallion where the letters spell, “MAIL”, then primer it rust brown, and best of all, put on a top coat, a rich and glossy forest green.

It is a tiny symbol of my willingness to engage again, spiffing up a box that holds words, mine going out and letters from editors coming back in the slow old-fashioned way. Soon I’ll feel up to stepping out past the perimeter of our gate and back into the world, but for now, it is a beginning: Stamps ferry my words to and from my green mailbox while I stay behind my own front door.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Hanged One

January 22, 2018: The Hanged One by Tania Pryputniewicz

The Hanged One sat behind glass in my Polish grandfather’s desk in my bedroom all November, December, and into January during the months of caring for my mother (her cancer returned) in her final days. “By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world,” writes Joan Bunning of the Rider-Waite-Smith Hanged One (Learning the Tarot). And I think of the way time slowed caring for my mother in the reverse stages you experience watching your children gain mobility and freedom, only this was witnessing my mother lose both. It triggered a physical pain in the middle of my chest that hasn’t left yet.

“The Universal symbol associated with the repetitive patterns is the labyrinth,” writes Angeles Arrien of the blue squares within squares Lady Frieda Harris puts in the background of her version of the Hanged One. The central figure hangs upside down by one foot just as we see in the Rider Waite version. A crowning light pours from the head, a nod to the body’s physical reality: blood rushing to fill the head and the senses. It doubles as a spiritual metaphor: golden halo of illumination or awareness earned in moments of forced stillness. This was the case for me and my siblings after seeing the black and white image of the cancer’s snow falling through my mother’s throat, lungs, and torso, when the doctor wouldn’t yet say it was certain she would die or when, something they wait as long as possible to admit is inevitable with that kind of a resurgence of cancer cells. But we all knew.

Hanging suspended but able, caring for her in the two months she’ll have left, we watch her steps slow until she needs to be steadied by a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. And then, just like when I held my husband’s hand and crushed it in time to the contractions of our first child, when my mother was no longer able to swallow or talk, her hand clung to mine with a pulsed grip, waves of faint but present life force coming through her fingers to mine and we had to guess just as we did with our babies when she was hungry, when she was tired, when she was cold.

And time nearly ceased, remember? Just like the kindergarten hours. All the time to notice the sidewalk one square at a time, to come to know intimately the block around the house, the steps of each of the neighboring houses: one set painted purple, the next set yellow, the next blue, then a darker red set, peeling. We knew each garden. And where the rosemary lived. I’d stop the wheelchair and we’d crush a little between our fingers and proceed, lifting our fingertips to our faces. Our favorite garden sat behind a lattice brown fence we called, “The Roses” with its six different rose bushes and one bright red soft-petalled rose that persisted the last two weeks of her life.

The day she decided to ask for end of life meds, she named the rose Gabriella after her hospice nurse and I cried with her as I pushed her in the wheelchair to the flower stand on the corner where we could buy Gabriella a “thank you” rose as red as the one we’d named after her and left alive in the garden. Mom picked out a card meant for congratulating a new mother in which a pink fairy godmother rains stars from her wand into a pink baby carriage. That’s Gabriella, she said, of the fairy, and I took solace in the metaphor of the baby in the carriage as a harbinger of hope, a symbol of my mother getting ready to cross into whatever rebirth there is in death. As she moved closer to her time, I felt the incredible grip on my body—my husband and children pulling on me at  home to return—Christmas, my husband’s birthday—against my mother’s request that the three of her children come to her bedside again since she’d decided she was done. I wanted desperately to be in both places. But the Hanged One visited us all—even my mother—when the hospice nurse read her vitals and said, You might be ready, but your body is still strong. It might take longer than you want. And it did: ten days longer.

And so we took her daily to the roses. After the slowed gaze at leaves stuck to the sidewalk squares and the frantic tracking of every bench that Mom might need to rest on when her ankles swelled and her knees began to buckle, we reveled in the sweet relief of the wheelchair, its rolling peace, Mom drifting to sleep, her neck tilting back as we passed the gardens we’d formerly only been able to shuffle past.

On her last trip to the coffee shop, our favorite, named Timeless, where my sister-in-law introduced us to Oat milk Cappuccinos, Mom could only swallow a quarter bite of the triple layer chocolate cake I bought for her. A little two-year old at the table next to us stood on his chair, his father’s hand gripping the back of his shirt. He stared in that little child way, continually: at mom’s wheelchair, at her half-open eyes, at the way I held the fork to her mouth, the tiny cup of coffee to her lips, watched me wipe her chin as his father did for him.

And the Hanged One visited at night in the hours, when, finally I fell asleep, only to startle awake to hear Mom sliding back out of bed, asking for soup, to talk, to paint on her Buddha board, soft black lines of her brush strokes of water fading as we talked. One night the mirror on the inside of her bedroom door disoriented her. She so gradually slipped into the hallucination wreathe of the pain meds I nearly missed it, except for when she sat looking at the book titles on the shelf across from us, swinging her little bunny-eared slippers back and forth, and she said, “Oh how shiny those book spines are,” and when I said, “Which books?” and she replied, “That Viking Knitting” books, I realized she was drifting…for the book spines actually read, “Vintage Knitting.” The Hanged One visited as we sat pinned still, watching our mother change while we remained the same: her children, of sound body and mind, while she morphed and slid into changing realities, and then, the third day before she passed, into the coma of sleep.

“When the Hanged One shows its serene and secret face, it is time to connect and explore the mysteries only you can scribe and decode,” I read on-line ( But I was at a loss to scribe and decode that first night of sleeping alone in my brother’s house after they came for her body. We’d finally turned off the Celtic music that had looped through her room all hours of the day and night the last four days but I couldn’t bear to turn off her bedside light we’d also taken to leaving on for her. The house felt thick and full and there was no cheerful Hanged One’s halo of light to be found. I struggled to find peace, to feel calm, but the air was just thick and heavy. Some crossings are made in the dark and alone. I know in the days to come, light will break through whatever this darkness of loss is and unpack the gifts of my mother’s life locked in my memory and in the memories of our large and loving family, and those of her friends.

Another of the Hanged One’s metaphors is the ladder. Both labyrinth and ladder feel accurate to me. I am listening as I always have for what I am to learn. Someone, meaning well, asked if I had asked my mother all my questions, if I had had all the conversations I needed to have with her, had I had enough time. It’s probably a question I would have asked too before I lost a parent. Yes, we talked.

“No” is the other answer, because now I live past her life into each day full of questions I couldn’t have imagined I’d have for her. But as a writer, I have a lifetime of pages of memories in my journals I’ve kept since I was a child. And the solace of knowing we loved her through those Hanged One days by eating my brother’s wife’s beautiful cooking, taking our mother to the rose garden, watching the sunsets above the bay. That we fed her chocolate and coffee, binge-watched The Great British Bake-Off, that she left us a few days after one more night with The Sound of Music and Porco Rosso, that we held her hand and watched her watch the pilot flying up into the clouds to approach the glittering Milky Way, a Milky Way that turned out to be made up of the airplanes flown by pilots who had already crossed over to the other side.

April Update:

*Mary will be posting again with me later this month. In the meantime, I'm including a link to a beautiful Tarot entry she wrote about prevailing through grief after losing her sister; this entry was also featured at Tiferet Journal: The Moon