"Gate 22" & Miscellaneous Thoughts on Therapy...

July 28, 2014
Gate C22
by Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he'd just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she'd been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching--
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn't look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after--if she beat you or left you or
you're lonely now--you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman's middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.


Ellen Bass is well known for her work on helping others recover from sexual abuse, and unfortunately, not as well known for her equally beautiful work as a poet. Personally, I find myself referring to lines from poems often as I seek to more deeply understand and imagine the possibilities and challenges in my own life, and those of family, friends, and clients. Poets such as Hafiz, Rumi, Kabir, Mary Oliver, and David Whyte may have been our original therapists without knowing it.

One poem I find meaningful to many couples has been "The Third Body" by Robert Bly. The idea behind it is that in any relationship there are three bodies- there is your own that you solely are responsible for physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Then there is your partner's body and they are responsible to do the same, not asking the other to do what we must do for ourselves. This means caretaking ourselves the way a gardener would tend to their own garden- pulling out the weeds as they rise without blame, denial or too much delay, and taking personal responsibility for the direction and quality of our lives. And then there is this "third body" that you are both responsible for nurturing and nourishing together. This image is one that many people like and intuitively grasp easily, and often allows for people to create a new, more inspiring image for the health of their relationship. When any of these three bodies aren't being respected and well cared for, the health of the other two often are impacted for the worst.

Two very common examples of self neglect are ignoring our own cherished dreams for what we want most in life and/or denial of addictions. Addictions can range from substance abuse to pornography to video games. Both often play an insidious and destructive role, and the more either is minimized or denied, the longer the relationship might suffer. How many times have I seen relationships seem to magically improve as one spouse reclaimed a buried dream such as writing or painting, lost weight they had been carrying for years, or left a soul-sucking job? Sometimes, the sense of unfulfillment in our lives can be misplaced onto the relationship. Rather than take a gentle but firm critical look at ourselves, we will take a blatant and scathing critical look at our partners instead. This is a particular danger as we enter mid-life, and feel compelled to evaluate the decisions we have made. By mid-life, the emergence of our wrinkles in the mirror no longer allow us to pretend that we are exempt from the passage of time and the consequences of our actions. This can be an incredible time of rebirth and opportunity depending on our attitudes and responsibility we are willing to take into this next chapter of our lives.

In a wedding I attended there was a table placed at the foot of the podium. Three candles were lit. As part of the tradition, the bride and groom each took one candle and then together, lit the third. Then, they blew out their own candles. I found myself wishing that they had each kept their own candles lit, and allowed for all three candles to be aflame side by side- a perfect metaphor to me for the message of "The Third Body."

To close, I recommend spending some time, if you don't already, with the poetry of writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, or Mary Oliver, for starters. You may find, as I and others have, that they allow us to reimagine our lives in fantastic new ways. Recently, I redesigned my entire living space from the paint color to nearly everything else. You wouldn't recognize it from before, but my favorite thing I did was blow up favorite lines of poets that inspire me. A few examples that have continued to create profound inner shifts for me are:

“This sky where we live is no place to lose your wings so love, love, love.” (Hafiz)

"Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

“If you don't break your ropes while you're alive do you think ghosts will do it after?” (Kabir)

I decided to start off this new year by reading this poem in the mornings. Hope you might like it too...

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

~ John O'Donohue ~

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