"I am the morning song" // Melissa Fernandez: Brave First Steps

Happy birthday to beloved staff creative and inspiratrice Melissa Fernandez.

She welcomed a new decade of "life riddles and wild adventures" with us in her photo essay, "My Forty," in The Phoenix Soul: Brave First Steps.

December came with great ache and frustration, as Melissa was caught in a web of shoulds and must-dos to make her "a worthy woman":

December brought me to the light, delivered me
into sheer brightness and clarity. The strength of despair also guided me. With her dark ways, she unveiled the piercing truth.
— Melissa Fernandez, TPS: Brave First Steps

Melissa remembered that her forty is a trickster and a teacher:

This is one woman’s story. This is my forty. All my many escapades of living. [...] All the new ways that surfaced when surrender was the next best ending. All my heart-wrenching stories of a human trying to make it through. This is all we’re ever doing.
— Melissa Fernandez, TPS: Brave First Steps

She then rises triumphantly:

This is my experience of life riddles and wild adventures. Of heartache and pain. Of reaching and rising. Of getting up once again as a new morning welcomes me back. Of a dark night when my soul sings, erupts truth, and invites gentle first steps.
— Melissa Fernandez, TPS: Brave First Steps

Welcome to forty, Melissa. Thank you for inviting us to journey with you as you brave-step into a new decade.

Love & respect,
Amanda
(your fellow phoenix)

just one step // The Phoenix Soul: Brave First Steps

Phoenix, do you feel brave?

Honestly . . . I rarely do. Anxiety often piles up roadblocks in my path. Too often, I've lived as a smaller, quieter, less vibrant version of my best self.

My saving grace, though, is remembering this: you don't need ALL the bravery in order to move forward, toward the life of your dreams--one spilling over with meaning, depth, purpose, passion.

You just need enough bravery for one tiny (infinitesimal) step. 

One brave move leads to another.

I'm so grateful for today's new release of our digital magazine, The Phoenix Soul. The theme? Brave First Steps. It's a wildly colorful celebration of daily bravery, including stories about letting go (burning 100+ journals! What?!), coming out, living with chronic illness and anxiety, and more.

This issue is an encouraging companion for the new year, as so many of us re-commit to living our best lives. 

Phoenix, you and I are so much braver than we give ourselves credit for . . . simply being ourselves (in all our messy beauty, full of feeling) in a world that's sometimes overwhelming. It matters. We matter. 

I hope to see you in our vibrant pages. I'd love to celebrate our brave (and sometimes timid) souls together. We're so much stronger united.

Sending you so much love,
Amanda
(your fellow phoenix)

 

"Blessed Mother Blue Sky" by Dr. Terry Chase (guest author)

Friends, we're wrapping up our exploration into Inner Truth. Today, guest Dr. Terry Chase writes about her mother--a tenacious, colorful woman whose world is shrinking because of macular degeneration. When you lose everything you once held dear, does your inner truth still shine brightly? Or even brighter than before? Let's find out. --Amanda

 
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Blessed Mother Blue Sky
by Dr. Terry Chase


“Where will you put me when I go blind?” my mother asks me quietly. She asks me this question in various forms several times during my visit with her this late spring afternoon.

“Right here, Mom, I hope to keep you living here for as long as you can handle it,” I respond again. Patiently as I can is important. After answering that same question many, many times a day my patience is worn thin with her. It’s usually in response to her fear and anxiety of lessening independence, the negative effects of aging, and her declining ability to see.

Macular degeneration progressing over the last eight years has robbed her of eyesight to see many details of life. Her visual field consists only of the peripheral, catching glimpses of the sky, overhead traffic signals, and movements around her. She can see to walk by watching the ground below and where her feet are landing. To see the face of her family again or pick out the hidden words from word search puzzles are her only wishes now.

Her frail body moves quickly as she fidgets in her chair, reaching for a cigarette. A tall glass of wine and her ciggies late afternoons are the staples of her life. A head of blond hair, streaked with black and gray, holds the natural curl of her youth. She still does her own haircuts with scissors, no need for a mirror, just by feel and with a sense of evenness developed over the years.

“I know it’s age,” she says sadly. “My eyes just wore out.” Proudly she remarks, “Look at me, I’m almost eighty.” A smile comes broadly across her face with this statement. A statement from a woman who kept her age a secret most of her life and now tells anyone who will listen how old she really is. Some days it’s almost eighty, other days only seventy-two.

“I know, Mom, I wish I could help you in some way,” I reply with sincerity, reluctant to the fact there is nothing else I can do.

I would help her in any way possible to regain some eyesight. She told me several years earlier that she had to stand in the street to see the bus coming. That was my first inkling of her eyes going bad. After many difficult eye exams and a final determination of macular degeneration, I enrolled her in a clinical study that would supply her with medicine to possibility reverse or stop the progression. The study was for the genetic determinants of macular degeneration, so that she received the medicine shots in the eyeball for participating was a bonus. To watch the long needle be inserted into the whites of her eyeballs was more than I could handle. She never flinched. Ready for her cigarette and coffee as soon as the appointment was over.

“My eyes, my eyes,” she says. “I wish I could see more. Everything in front of me is a blur. I can’t even see your face anymore.”

Without the sense of sight intact, blurred vision takes away the ability see facial expressions, make eye contact with others, and get those subtle social cues of being human. My mom’s vision changes are robbing her of so much contact with others. A lifetime spent looking to be noticed through her eccentric behaviors, wild dress, and excitable personality is now dampened and constrained.

“I know, Mom, it’s got to be so hard for you,” I reply with sadness.

Her clouded blue eyes continue to search and catch anything at the edges of her sight.

“Look at that sky, Blessed Mother Blue Sky is so beautiful today. The clouds just moved out and now look at it, so blue and beautiful!” she exclaims excitedly.

Not even close to a religious person in her adulthood, my mom was raised by strict Catholic parents, attended parochial school through high school, divorced twice, then left her rural Long Island roots to live and work in the casinos of Reno, Nevada. Not much religion there amongst the gamblers, drinkers, and other behaviors scorned by religious types. But somehow she kept her connection to the divine through frequent prayers of “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” “Jesus Christ,” and her mainstay of support, “Blessed Mother,” usually exclaimed in heats of anger or surprise.

“I don’t know how you see the sky, Mom. You are right, it is beautiful today.” I confirm for her what she does see. I want to make sure she is truly seeing what she sees, not some made up version of what it might look like with full vision intact.

“The birds at the feeder too, I see them pecking away at the bottom of the feeder. There’s that big fat one again. Dear God, how do they eat so much?” For a woman who didn’t spend time outdoors for all her jobs in casinos and restaurants, her attention to wildlife is stunning. “Good question,” I say back, thinking about her weight, at barely ninety pounds with only one full meal a day and a chocolate protein drink mid-afternoon.

“Yes, Mom,” I assure her again, “the feeder is so busy with those birds and good thing there is lots of food for them.”

“Dear God, I can hardly see anything anymore,” she laments with a tone of despair and longing.

Again, assuring her, with kindness and my own despair, I respond, “Yes, Mom, you see what’s most important to you now. Blessed Mother Blue Skies and birds at the feeder.”


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Terry Chase knows about life’s challenges, having lived with a spinal cord injury for nearly three decades. As a professional Coach and Assistant Professor, Nursing at Colorado Mesa University, she also takes care of her mom, Paula. Terry loves all things outdoors: sea kayaking, cross-country skiing, handcycling, and whenever possible, riding horses.