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At several summer workshops this year, I have given a word prompt: “buoyancy,” and with it a poem of the same title by Rumi. Here’s one of my responses to the prompt and, at the end, the poem. Maybe a line from it will inspire you to write–or feel more buoyant.

Hearing the word buoyancy, I think immediately of our Farther Along bereaved mom group’s trip to France trip in 2012. We took this amazing vacation to celebrate ten years of writing together and the publication of our book, Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers.

A little history:  Back on the first day we met in 2002, the 13 of us were anything but buoyant. Heavy of step, heart. Spirits beaten down. Dark. Lives leaden and soggy, punctuated by bursts of acute sorrow.

Everyone felt reluctant—some were almost no-shows—but all had decided to give a daylong workshop “Writing Toward Healing” a try. Women had traveled from all over the state and from Virginia. As one woman said, “I’ll do anything to try to ease this angst as long as it’s legal.” Others said, “I can always leave if I can’t take it. Slip away at lunch or whatever.”

The day was hard but meaningful. No one left. We met again six months later for half a day. Since 2003, we have met at least twice a year for weekend retreats and sometimes mini gatherings in between.  At first we wrote primarily about aspects of grief. Now we write about everything. We’ve become a writing group, not a grief writing group.

Jump ahead to 2012: We are spending an enchanting week of writing and meandering and eating glorious French food in a “shabby chic” 16th century French chateau. One day seven in the group (12 of the 13 of us were able to make the France trip), took a cropped-image42.jpgride in a hot air balloon.

From an open field on a perfect September day, the brave ones clamored into a large box, helped aboard by a handsome French balloonist. They lifted off for a spectacular excursion into the light and sun-filled air, with a soaring birds-eye view of the Loire Valley. Green fields, chateaus, sparkling rivers, towns.balloon

Some of the earth-clingers who stayed on the ground drove over to see Aunt Elise, an ancient relative of the chateau owner. A crusty farm woman who wore denim work shirts and massive skirts hiding her bulk, Elise was quick, with her swollen fingers, to uncork a bottle of what she and her neighbors called “pipeline” red wine. This elixir was never exported, never left the rural “hood.” It was soft and gentle, a balm.

We toasted the airborne as they wafted over Elise’s ivy covered farmhouse. And sitting out on her sun-dappled terrace, we watched the balloon pass over her pasture. Elise’s horses and donkeys followed the strange object, looking up, neighing and he-hawing as the balloon released a loud snort and disappeared into the skies above the verdant valley.Kathy and Barbara in balloon

Back at the chateau afterwards, the brave balloonists received certificates and a champagne reception, the adorable Frenchman in charge probably somewhat overwhelmed by the women’s ebullience and easy humor.Kathy, Barbara, Monica, Kay, Peggy, Beverly, Beth, Michael, the aeronaute

Everyone associated with the chateau knew we were a group of bereaved mothers. They probably expected to see a gaggle of sobbing women, hovering in dark stone corners, keening and scribbling into  notebooks.

But no. All week our laughter ricocheted off the cold stone walls; pranks, stories, writings, poured out of us, like the fresh pipeline wine.




Buoyancy, by Rumi

Love has taken away my practices

and filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating
No strength but yours, but I couldn’t.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable, chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.
That is how I hold your voice.

I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
quickly reduced to smoke and ash.

I saw you and became that empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence.

The sky is blue.
The world is a blind man sitting beside the road.

But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond the blue and the blind man.

A great soul hides like Muhammad or Jesus
moving through a crowd in a city where no one knows him.

To praise is to praise
how one surrenders to the emptiness.

To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.

So the journey goes on,
and no one knows where.

Just to be held by the ocean
is the best luck we could have.
It is a total waking up.

Why should we grieve that we have been sleeping?
It does not matter how long we have been unconscious.

We are groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness around you.
the buoyancy.