By Jen Pastiloff.
I want to show you something.
Here, sit with me.
There’s a cat here. I hope you don’t mind cats. Coffee is curled up on the bed with me. It’s threatening to rain outside and I’m sitting here on a bed at my sister’s house, just south of Atlanta. I’m staying in her back room with the weird exercise machine that simulates horseback riding. My nephew Blaise, proud owner of Coffee the Cat, was given the horseback riding machine to strengthen his core muscles. He has a rare genetic disorder called Prader Willi Syndrome which creates low muscle tone and a feeling like you are literally starving to death. All the time. Starving. To. Death.
Last night, Maddock, his 5 year old brother (proud owner of Sugar The Cat), climbed on it, and with his imaginary lasso, yelled Giddyup! Giddyup! before he tried standing on it like a surfboard. Which, I can’t say anymore without calling it a surfbort. (Thanks, Beyonce.)
So that’s in the room with me and Coffee The Cat and my shit that is sprawled everywhere and the book I have been reading, Once I was Cool, by Megan Stielstra*.
I want to show you what I mean by beauty hunting since I talk about it so much.
But how can I show you? How can I pull you- you, in your car or the parking lot or your room or your desk or wherever you are reading this, you, with your own set of ideas and beliefs about people and the world and the way things turn out and how people are- how can I get you in this room with me and this cat and this goofy rodeo horseback riding Panasonic machine and get you to believe me that when you listen to people and when you show up, like really show up, there is beauty everywhere.
And I think, who am I to show you, anyway? What the hell do I know? I haven’t gotten out of my pajamas today and I drank too much coffee and I’m just trying to not drown so what can I tell you about how people are and beauty and the way the world is?
I can’t. But I can share with you my journey.
That’s all we can do. Right?
A couple years ago I connected with a reader of The Manifest-Station named Rosie Alma. She had cystic fibrosis.
She’d written a guest post for the site and followed me on Facebook. In April of 2013, she saw I was coming to Atlanta to do a workshop and sent me an email. It said:
Hello sweet Jen!
I am at Wesley Woods Hospital.
It’s really close to Emory Hospital, which is where I got my double-lung transplant (and where I will be getting my next one, because the first transplant has been unsuccessful).
It would mean SO MUCH if you are able to visit. Feel free to email me here if you have any questions; or, for more immediate communication, you can text me here:
Would LOVE to see you! 🙂
Peace and infinite love. Rosie
I didn’t know how I would make it happen in the short time I had in Georgia. I had no car. I was busy. Bla fucking bla.
I told her I would be there. My sister, Blaise and I, all went to Wesley Woods Hospital to meet her. Blaise jumped on the bed and hugged her. She couldn’t talk since she’d just had the transplant and was very weak. I am used to not being able to hear so I told her long as she’d move her lips, all would be right in the world.
I had never been in the presence of such light before. Sounds hoaky, I know. But I’m telling you, it was like a corny movie where you could hear angels humming. She was so full of life.
And she was dying.
I think of all the bullshit excuses that get in our (read: my) way. If I had not gone to visit her because I couldn’t make the time, I would have never met this human before she died. My sister went to visit her again with my nephew, and then Rosie suddenly passed away just a week before her 25th birthday.
And I’m telling you, I saw the parallel universe. The one where I said I wish I could but I can’t I’m busy I don’t have enough time I don’t have a car I have a workshop to do I am afraid and I saw how many times that parallel universe was the one I lived in and how it was the opposite of beauty hunting.
I became close with Rosie’s family after she died. Her mother and sister read all my writings and felt grateful that we had gone to visit Rosie. And just before she died, she told them that Blaise’s hug was one of the best of her life. Her short life. And because it had meant so much to Rosie that we went and visited her.
Look, Rosie never used the term beauty hunting. I made that up when I started the 5 most beautiful things project but that girl was the fiercest beauty hunter I ever met. With her little yellow nightgown and all those tubes around her neck and in her arms, she was bow and arrowing her way through fields of shit to find the good. I’m telling you, there were angels humming when we opened the door to her hospital room. Now, how many times have you had that happen when you weren’t on mushrooms? (Like zero? That’s what I thought.) This girl was the real deal.
Side note: I have never shroomed. I have tried ecstasy. Three times. Around 1999. Never mushrooms. Last time was the millennium. New Years 2000. And I had to wait tables the next day. And it was awful. Anyway.
So yesterday, Rosie’s mom Vicki, and her sister Bridget and her brother Josh, all drove from Tennessee to come to my Manifestation Workshop in Atlanta. They were all scared shitless. It was also the first time they had been back to Atlanta since Rosie died. It was the first time we were meeting in person.
I can’t explain to you what it was like having them there. I don’t have access to the right words. You would’ve had to have been there to hear her brother Josh read a letter from Rosie when I asked them to do my exercise “In The Voice of Someone Who Loves You.” I ask them to write a letter to themselves in the voice of someone who loves them. Alive, passed away, their dog, Jesus. Whoever.
You’d have to have been there when her mom said that she was afraid she would never not be sad, to understand what I mean when I say how one yes I will be there can change the whole course of a life, and not just one life, but everyone who was in that workshop yesterday- all those lives changed. Imagine that! One little Yes, I will come see you at the Wesley Woods Hospital can do that?
So, who am I but a pajama clad, cat-petting girl on a bed, but I will ask you this: How many moments have been missed because you said No, I can’t come to Wesley Woods Hospital to see you?
Side note: I don’t even particularly like cats.
The exercise where I ask them to write a letter in the voice of someone who loves you is my favorite. The way the room sucks the air out of itself. The way people’s hands quiver when they read the letter and they seem surprised at the emotion in their own voices, I didn’t think I would cry, they say, and the way their voices shake and tissues get passed around without any eyes averting from the person reading the letter. The way everyone really just wants to be heard. All of us.
Side note: Don’t you, too? Want to be heard?
Yesterday was one of those moments in life, maybe you’ve had one? Where you’re like Yes, Oh yes, This is what I was meant to be doing. It’s all coming together.
Side note: I don’t necessarily believe in such things as “it was meant to be” and “things happen for a reason” so when those moments happen it’s much like when you walk into a hospital room to meet a beautiful dying girl and you hear angels humming. You’re like “No, this can’t be real.” But, it is. It is.
Yesterday’s workshop was like that.
And Rosie’s family was there. They drove all those hours from Tennessee and sat and sweated and cried and sang and laughed with us. They got to experience what Rosie didn’t.
I feel like that about my dad a lot. I’m getting to experience what you didn’t, Daddy. Look at me! Can you feel it? I wish you could be here to feel this. I’m sure they felt that. Rosie, can you feel it? We’re here for you. We drove back to the place where you died and how we wish you were here listening to these stories. You’d love it. These people with their open hearts.
There was a 16 year old girl there yesterday. Joey. She had on a blue Great Gatsby t-shirt. It’s the 2nd time in 4 weeks that a 16 year old has showed up to my workshop. Last time was in London last month. When the time came to do the “In The Voice of Someone who loves me” exercise, I called on Joey. She said that she had recently been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and had invented a personality who loved her. This is what the personality wrote to her in a poem:
I have held your face in my hands a million times. Your eyes have softened me. Your breath has kept me warm. In the coldest and cruelest of winters, I have held you to me, saying the words that need no saying, that cannot digest, that stick to the palms–“I love you”.
The way she looks at the camera. Doesn’t that slay you? The way she wants to be heard and seen and loved. I mean, this girl is a poet through and through. And Rosie’s family got to experience this. All of us did. The room, it was still- would you believe me if I said that no one was moving? That it was the kind of stillness where you wonder if you’re real anymore but you are so terrified of moving that you don’t care. Because what’s real anyway? you think. Fuck “real”, you think, if I’ve got this.
Because this terrifying and beautiful love is enough to crack your skin and make you bleed but you’re like I’m alive, I’m alive, Oh, this is what it feels like to be alive.
And we all clapped for Joey. And Rosie. And all the lights out there. All the misfits, and hurt ones, all the dead ones and ones who wished they were dead and all the goddamn beautiful people- we clapped for them all.
Like this one. Danielle Goeckel. She wrote in the voice of her dog. The dog said “I want to be near you all the time because you’re what love feels like.”
I mean, this line: You are what love feels like.
I can’t even.
Just watch her. She wrote that on the spot in my workshop. On. The. Spot.
Holy hell, how can I pull you through that computer screen so you are here with me witnessing this shit? I want all of you to understand that this is what love feels like.
But I can’t make anyone understand anything. All I can do is hope that you say yes that you will go see her at The Wesley Woods Hospital. All I can do is hope you will invent pieces of yourself who love you and write you poems. All I can do is hope that you allow another being to love you so much that they say “You are what love feels like.”
I can’t pull rabbits out of hats (although I keep trying) but I can show you what I’ve found on this impossibly beautiful path of mine. I can lay out all my stories like stones and you can turn them over one by one, and in some way, it’ll be like you were here with me on this bed, with me and Coffee and my horseback riding machine and you can open your palm and say Here, here is my stone. Here is my story.
At the end of my life, when I say one final “What have I done?” let my answer be, “I have done love.”
I say that a lot, but my god, don’t you wanna? Don’t you want that so bad that you can taste it and it’s like the best thing you’ve ever tasted and you want it all the time and you know what? You can.
You can have this. All the time.
In case you were curious. Here is said bizzaro horseback riding exercise machine