When the fog hangs low in the city of Xalapa, Mexico, and when the air is heavy and damp, and when the clouds make the mountain peaks disappear in the distance, this is when my Mexican host mom from so many years ago would call the weather chipi chipi. When someone feels raw, eyes pregnant with tears, heart wide open and the sting sharper than when you scrape your hands on cement, this is when my Mexican host mom from so many years ago would call the mood chipi chipi.
Today there was sad news, news that matched Vancouver’s chipi chipi weather, news that felt like the cold air and the big, fat rain drops falling onto the sidewalk. Someone who was a bright spot in the world, someone with a heart full of love and care, someone who was most certainly present in the world only a few months ago— that someone isn’t here anymore. Kathy’s gone. She left. Her hands are not chopping onions in the kitchen, she is not mixing pancake batter or planning meals or singing songs in community. She is gone. How oddly final.
The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Feathers and Sand and Acrylics called today, about something else entirely. I knew something was wrong as soon as I picked up the phone. Her voice was heavy and measured and sad, as she shared the news that her dear friend- and the woman that had beautifully, hopefully, awesomely cooked stunning meals for us when we were on retreat this summer, was gone. Kathy was a nutritionist, a cook, a woman who filled plates with green, with heart, with vitamins, with love. She sang with us in the evenings. She gave us apples and coffee filters so we didn’t have to walk to the kitchen for a pre-breakfast snack. She cared deeply, and she poured her love into the food she made at each meal-time, and the magic, the friendship, the love, the hope- you could taste it. She nourished us, she cared for us, she helped us heal.
And she is gone.
I didn’t know this woman well. She explained to me one morning, as she stood beside the bread-toaster at breakfast, why spelt flour is OK even though it has gluten in it, and why it is so different from wheat. She told me about how she found the whole, diverse ingredients of Mexican food to be so healthy even decades before healthy food was trendy, and we bonded over our shared love of Mexican food. She sliced an apple for an injured mouse I was caring for, and reminded me to make sure the mouse had water, too. She cared.
I know she cared because she made me meals without mushrooms. That’s right. Not because I’m allergic, or because of something serious like that, just because I hate mushrooms. Everyone else had their mushroomy meals, and she made mine, separate, waiting for just me, those enchiladas without mushrooms and that bowl of leftover veggie soup instead of cream of mushroom. It seems insignificant, but it isn’t. Rarely have I felt so cared for, so carefully accounted for, so visible, as when Kathy lovingly prepared me something different, just because I didn’t like “what was for dinner.” I come from a family where what was for dinner was what was for dinner, and there wasn’t a second option. Take it or leave it, but don’t expect to have ice cream if you leave it (sound familiar?). And so imagine the care, the surprise, the relief at being so seen, so visible, so tenderly accounted for- that someone made me food without mushrooms. The first time she gave me a special plate my eyes got wide, and I thought “This is for me? Really?” It was. It was for me, those plates without mushrooms. It was one of the times in my life I felt most cared for. No mushrooms. Not a single one. How kind. How special. How thoughtful. I was so touched, so loved, by Kathy.
And so it feels chipi chipi. My heart aches for her, and I wonder who was taking care of her, I hope someone held her close and gave her fuzzy blankets and made her warm tea, I hope she knew how very loved she was. And I am afraid she was alone, I am afraid she didn’t get to share those last moments with loved ones, I am afraid she didn’t know how loved she was. Maybe she did, and I will hope so. My heart aches for her colleagues, the other facilitators at the retreat who worked with her and loved her, and who have lost a grand friend. My heart aches for her family, for those closest to her, those with a big giant Kathy-sized hole in their hearts, a hole that will never quite be filled again, a hole who’s edges will always ache, even after they have scarred over and formed a new shape where Cathy was. Chipi chipi because the world feels cruel and harsh and cold, chipi chipi because it doesn’t seem fair or real or believable, chipi chipi because she was so full of life, and knowing that she won’t ever inhabit the world again, move again, love again, laugh again, is so very dissonant that it sounds like two young musicians playing what should be a lovely sound, but instead one is playing B and the other B-flat, and it scorches the ear. It sounds wrong. Chipi chipi, because someone great isn’t here anymore. Someone I didn’t know well is gone now, but she was someone I knew well enough to know we should be remembering, mourning, missing, and again remembering. I knew her well enough to know she was great. Chipi chipi, indeed.
In this afternoon of chipi chipi, I did a few things. I closed my laptop and took a deep breath. I talked on the phone to a good friend. I walked to yoga in the rain. I practiced hard, and hot, and whole, and it felt good. I walked home from yoga in the rain, and I made a chicken and tomato dish for dinner that was topped with piles of fresh herbs and parmesan, and I think Kathy would have approved. And then I made this little stop motion. For you Kathy, because the world is a little more chipi chipi without you.