Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Vase

I awoke this morning with death, life, love, my parents, my kids – all of this not really on my mind as much as in my heart, residing like the deep ocean inside of me, defining me, holding me, offering to me a chance to love the world with all that I am and am not.

I glanced at the clock, squinting mightily as I do each morning, and decided to roll over and not so much go back to sleep as lie in that space of semi-conscious remembering.  My dreams were full and had messages that I had not completely tapped into yet. 

Recounting only briefly, I was with my friend who died this year.  His phone and computer were next to me on a table.  His phone rang, I answered, and it was him.  He was returning and I wanted to gather flowers to uplift the room.  As I was flower arranging, the vase felt and looked too full, just like our minds feel too full at times with worries, anxieties, fears, what ifs and thoughts about the future. 

Just as that thought manifested in my dream, there was a man crouching down by my side.  We both reached into a cupboard to retrieve the perfect size and shape vase.  There was no question in either one of our minds which vase we would choose.  In unison, as we drew the vase out, I leaned in to him and rested my head on his chest.  There was no doubt, question, hesitation in me.  He completely and simply received my need at that moment and without words offered me a place to rest and be.  There was no other moment that mattered in that moment. 

Just last night I had just finished Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men before going to sleep.  I was deeply struck by the humanity in that book and how Candy could not help relieve his dog’s long overdue suffering but George had to relieve Lennie’s future suffering.  This is on my ninth grade son’s English reading list.  Its message is clear: sometimes there is just no way to resolve the world as it is.  The world is full of suffering and we can be bodhisattvas with awakened, broken, soft hearts open to the world.  We will be wounded and hurt as we witness a world that is alive and trapped in the confusion of aggression and retribution.  And there are circumstances simply beyond our control.  To love the suffering, mad world with every molecule of our being is freeing but still we cannot alleviate it all however much we would like to.  The Buddha realized that.  Jesus realized that. 

We can though work our cluttered and worried minds and take some of the anxiety and confusion away by sitting down and quieting in a regular way.  Some do this by sitting and meditating regularly, some do this by communing with others in a sacred place like church, synagogue, temple or other hallowed space.  Some walk on the earth with great tenderness and honesty.  Through exercising the mind by stilling it, we can live more in the gift and wonder of each moment.

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.  And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.  Then gradually time awakened again and moved sluggishly on.” 


As I lay in bed in the wonder of my sweet dreams of the night from which I had just awakened, my oldest boy came into my room and wanted a hug.  I moved over and he lay down.  I hugged him and gently ran my fingers through his hair.  Before long he was fast asleep.  Then my youngest showed up at my bedroom door all wrapped up in his down comforter.   He came around the other side of the bed and joined the party.  There I lay on a rainy lazy Sunday morning the last day of September sandwiched between my two grown sons, much like when we first moved in this house ten years ago.  How many mornings had we snuggled together just like this.  It was a fleeting gift to have this settled, peaceful moment of not doing but simply being.

To just be happy because we are together.  We all drifted off to a brief morning sleep only to be awakened by the telephone, first the home phone which we let ring through, then the cell phone, which my eldest handed to me.  It was my mom.  Through tears she delivered the sad news of my neighbor’s, Aldo, passing this morning.  I just felt so sad and said so.  I hung up and reflected for a few moments.  The moment of sleepy peace disrupted, the boys moved out of our collective snuggle and I was left alone with a heart of sadness.

I had been thinking and regretting not having spent enough time with my parents, or with my long time neighbors from my childhood home, Grace and Aldo.  Even though I had time with Grace and Aldo on their front porch in July, I saw a memory clearly when I had only waved a few weeks ago to my dad and Aldo who were perched on Aldo’s front porch across the street.  I was in a rush to get to the office.  How I wish now that I had just taken five more minutes and said hello. 

Is it worth regretting those moments that we miss, when we are engaged in another moment that we must meet?  There is usefulness in regret if it helps us to see more clearly and engage more clearly in what makes our heart sing, if it helps us to be more present in our moments and to others in our lives.  Regret can help us see places that we would like to shift and change.  Regret can be a helpful reminder to make more space in our mind and schedule to relate to our life, to relate to others.

Today I know that I will spend part of the day with my folks.  I know that I took time to cuddle with my boys this morning.  It is about the lifetime of being together and all the moments that add up to that lifetime.

We are all precious beings of basic goodness and decency.  We all love, we all cry, we all get angry, we all feel sorry when we fly off the handle, we all want a place to rest our head and a shoulder to cry on.  Again as I lay in bed with my two sleepy head boys this morning, I glanced up at my bedroom wall and saw a little shrine of sorts I have.  A painting of the Buddha holding a woman in his arms, holding and loving her, being fully present in the embrace, knowing that one is enough, and that each and every one of us represents the goodness of this world. 

And then I glance to the two hundred year old vase from my great grandmother placed on the highest ledge.  A 200 year old family relic just sitting there out in the open, vulnerable, accessible, alive, and celebrated, just sitting out there in space like every one of us.


(Quote from John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Path of a Broken Hearted Warrior

Impermanent are all created things;

Strive on with awareness.


~Said to be the final words of the Buddha before dying at age 80
in approximately 486 BC


My world, as all of our worlds, is a continual journey with crossroads strategically positioned along the way to challenge my being to grow, expand and ever penetrate the layers of ego, fixation on permanence, our attachment to people, things and ways of being and the small and large terrors including loneliness, abandonment, and death. 

There is a way to touch tenderly our being and the being of others through gentleness, courage, intelligence all in the context of wakefulness.

All on earth will encounter change and transition which leads to growth.  Continual fixation on keeping things as they are, or avoiding pain is simply keeping oneself within the cycle of samsara, our addictive patterns within the context of this and other lifetimes.  The point is to awaken, practice and stay awakened.  There are many methods to avoid pain – keeping inside of our cocoon and habitual patterns is a pain avoidance strategy which actually leads to more pain and keeping oneself asleep.

Waking up takes mindfulness, mindful awareness, and attunement to the elements, loving kindness, and lots and lots of practice.  Staying with one’s breath as the object of awareness while maintaining the view of forward mindedness all within the context of gentleness and fearlessness is a workable way of being in this earthly realm.  Assisting others to awaken through loving kindness is the path of the Awakened Warrior.

To be fearless is not to shun away fear.  It is to recognize and acknowledge the fear and to gently hold space for fear to be a worthy participant in being on the path of a warrior.


All the memories exist somewhere between the busy days, packed schedules, children’s lives, school, and work

The love and laughter of my own now distant childhood reside in the stolen moments of reflection

I close my eyes, turn down the hyper-speed of my mind and reflect

It is to the long, slow, easy days of summer I return

I am a teenage girl sitting with my mother on our front porch

I see us huddled together in waves of conversation and laughter on warm summer evenings

Engaged in talks of my heart’s wishes on love and life’s possibility

My constant wondering and questioning if my heart would be fulfilled, if it would remain unbroken

I can hear even now my mother’s wise countenance and certain reassurances that life will always work out

She just knew that

I sometimes doubted her, resisted her insight but wanted to believe her

I reflect now that she just knew

Not necessarily that life turned out

But that we do survive in tact, better, wiser, happier

And that laughter is the best healer

That it takes a thousand muscles to frown

And just one to smile

The wishes of the heart may need to grown up
Still her counsel that life works its way out is true

It has

Witness the love and the connection and coming together

To celebrate and cherish the ones we love

To cherish the Mother we love

I’m attached to the reflections of those summer evenings

As I am attached to her, my mother

And to those sacred memories shared with my mother many years ago as a hopeful young woman

When she had the wisdom to emulate resilience and innocence 

This wonderful world of memories forms me, molds me, and shapes me

As a woman who has, too, become a mother

And the best that I can wish for and dream of now

Is to offer to my children

The same wise words that life will indeed always work out

That it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown

And trust that someday they, too, can share a similar reflection

Thank you mom for it all!


(I wrote this October 6, 2006 for my mom in celebration of her 70th trip around the sun)

Friday, September 28, 2012

I Am So Vulnerable and So Alive


          Chicago streets in February can be brutally cold with a dampness that enters your bones and stays there. Clybourne Street that afternoon was quiet, practically deserted.  As I meandered along with my head and chin close to my chest to preserve some warmth, she was suddenly standing in front of my path.  She was small framed, ghastly thin even in her oversized beaten up dirty parka with a broken toothed smile.  I had the weight of tomorrow’s journey on my mind and she, her presence and need, could not be easily ignored.  My own needs and fears made me open my heart to hers.  Her request was for $30 dollars.  Her excuse was to buy medicine for her waiting babies at home.  It did not matter that this was probably a story she told herself and others like me over and over again; I was making myself completely vulnerable in a few short hours to complete strangers.  I took it as a sign that this stranger, a fellow human being one of my species, needed something.  Even if the money would be used to buy something other than Tylenol, what mattered is that I found the presence of mind to reach into my heart first to our common humanity and then my bag to hand her $30.  Her gratitude was immense and she asked for my name and address to pay me back.  I knew that would never happen nor could it, I was shipping off, leaving the Windy City for other shores.  The payback had happened the moment we crossed paths, and I decided not to ignore her.  She reminded me that I would have needs along my path, and perhaps an absolute stranger would answer one of them and reach deeply into their heart as well.  I was only 26 at the time, having spent 5 years at graduate school and my work.  I was leaving and doing so all because of a common thread that has wound its way around my life – love.

          I find myself in my mid forties reflecting back on my life, its path, its broken path, the many offshoots and side trails, the travails, the disappointments, the suffering, the common humanity experiences that have made certain moments stand out.  I am a mother.  Sometimes a real M-O-T-H-E-R!  I mother boys and they just keep getting older and bigger and lovelier and more disobedient and more opinionated and more independent and that is lovely and painful. I hate it and I welcome it.  Tired to the inner core yet reenergized when I take precious moments out for me, my being, to tap into the core of humanity, this world, this universe, my own mind.

          At their ages of 10 and 13, they tap into life in a way I never knew was available.  Of course, what generation of parents doesn’t say that about their offspring?  I began Motherhood with an intensity and passion that was borderline addictive in its quality, if not its intent.  I began to obsessive compulsively attempt to right all the wrongs and heartache I ever felt from a very early age on.  From diaper selection, to whether or not to co-sleep with my newborn, to length of time to breastfeed, to vaccinate or not, it all became a whirlwind, full of anticipation, anxiety, trepidation, absolute terror at messing up, to unfathomable joy and longing.  I wanted to help re-create my being and do that via another being.  My children would be grounded in this world in a way I never was or more accurately was never raised to be. 

          I recall the moment I received the confirmed news of my first wanted pregnancy.  I was sitting in a doctor’s office cloth gown with my legs dangling off the exam table having just peed in a cup.  Upon entry to the office for a routine annual exam, I had a hunch and big wish that I was pregnant.  My nurse midwife came in and without having to say anything, I read her smile.  I broke down and sobbed, racking, life altering sobbing.  She examined me and told me that my uterus was already the size of a small lemon.  Just think, my baby is a tiny minute collection of cells resting and floating inside of this lemon drop of a womb.  My body had manifested life inside of it.  My egg had embraced my husband’s seed and we were to be parents.  Yikes, no way, yes way.  It was all so expansive, impossible to get my racing, disjointed thoughts that quickly turned into fears around the idea.

          As I drove up to my office, there was only one person I wanted to talk with and that was my mom.  Funny, not my husband, not the future father of my babies.  My mom.  One and only. 


Shadow woman

Straighten your spine

Tuck under your chin

Walk on

Hold your cup of nighttime tea


Blend into the apartment’s white wall

And your self-portrait

Your body outlined

In folds of its own shadow self

Becomes art


Heartbroken, once again.

But a good feeling washes

Over, survival

Cold and alone

Drink hot, sweet late night tea

Walk on

Into life.
(Written on March 6, 1991 -- alone, heartbroken, alive in Chicago)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Let me rush in

To hold you when

You cry

When all the world

Feels like it is caving

Inward upon you

Come bring your head

Into my embrace

Cry, wipe your tears

And little runny nose

On my shirt

Know I’m here

Always waiting to hold

And hug you

And hold me, when

I cry and become

Confused and angry

Anger is a cover for

The fear and frustration

We feel

Masking our loneliness

And insecurity

Love and kindness

Are what our deeper

Spirits crave

We are at peace in

One another’s embrace

My son, even as I falter

I love you



(This poem was written September 9, 2000 for Kailen)


Tom - the greenhouse worker
Full of herbs, full of memories
You mockingly state, “A greenhouse full of germs”
Your characterization of your disease is “losing juice”
Missing words, synapses disrupted
Inside your mind’s inner realms
A retrieval system gone awry
You search for simple words, like “wall,” that most of us take for granted
Excavating to find the missing words
And I, many states away from you
Am touched by your story, your voice
I sit in my after-hours traffic
With cars passing me like they want to fly
I sit and I listen, suspended in the world of your loss and frustration
You reach for something deep inside of me
Evoked by your honesty
Losing juice, but finding hearts through the radio waves
(This was written for a total stranger Tom DiBlasio from Chantilly, VA who was interviewed by Noah Adams on "All Things Considered" and aired on
December 12, 1999)
Dear Noah Adams at NPR – "All Things Considered,"

Thank you for taking me on the journey of Mr. DiBlasio and his family and the disease, Alzheimer’s, with which they must live every day.  They are swept up in a world that only those impacted by such a condition can understand.  Right from the start of your piece, I felt a part of their family, their frustration, their fear, and their courage, if only for a short few minute radio segment.  Thanks to NPR’s commitment and compassion.  You bring people together.  Stories like his create a bridge for us to reach out to others’ lives, their heartaches and their joy.  I can only trust that the science and effort of those in the medical profession can shed light on Alzheimer’s for Mr. DiBlasio’s and others’ sake.  And thank you, Mr. DiBlasio for your courage to tell your story to me and others. 
Jean Marie Gunner 



The sound of my life…

The sound of it echoes past the shadows of my childhood,

Sweeping through the hollows of my young womanhood.

I hear Grace, my Italian neighbor’s resplendent voice, “I brought you some homemade chicken soup.”

I hear my brothers and parents and me decorating the Christmas tree.

I hear our laughter, our teasing, our play on a long journey down to Florida to visit my grandparents.

The sound of my life…

Is like a song from all my day dreaming and fantasizing, about the adventures I might someday take,

Or the fascinating job I might someday pursue.

The sound of my life…

Is the loss of certain dreams, and the lack of excitement I might feel when contemplating a new pathway,

And all the uncertainty and hesitation and anxiety that is life sometimes.

The sound of my life…

Is the fear that I am not a good enough, interesting enough example for my children.

The sound of my life…

Is that I love my son with every ounce of my being.

The sound of my life…

Is stillness and silence.

It is the sadness to know certain opportunities are passing me by,

The angst that I don’t capture the moment and do more.

The sound of my life…

Is the solid knowing that all my dreams are unfolding in their own good, sweet time.

The sound of my life…

Drums on and I feel swept up in everything happening to me and around me.

The sound of my life…

Is the laughter and glee of my son.

The sound of my life…

Is the devotion of my husband.

The sound of my life…

Is the new life that grows even now within me,

With all my doubt entwined with passion and conviction

That is this life.

The sound of my life is my life.
(Written April 4, 2000 -- I was expecting our second son and I felt the magic of new life within me and the presence of my family around me)


Love etches itself indelibly

Upon my being

Never fading

Only transforming

Mixing one moment

With the next

Creating color, shape

Sound, motion

A sensory chorus of

Past, present, future

Dreams forming now

As we near each

Moment to complete


I sigh, I turn in bed

My gaze finds a focus

A fix—the movement

Of the tree’s branches

Outside my window

Quivering one moment

In stillness the very next

Nodding at me in a reminding way

That this tree, too, has shaken fiercely

In the winds that have


Reassuring me that

The wild winds do blow

On to other places

And eventually dissipate

Remarkably the residual

Damage heals itself

A transformational reality

Of nature

The tree speaks to me now in utter truth:

“So my too legged friend

You too will quiver,

You will also settle in peace and

You will quake.

It’s just life.

What we like to call

The cycle of things,

Be still when you can and drop deeply,

Consciously, deliberately

Your roots so when

You are put to the test and

Life’s gust whips around you in frenzy, you will

Remain intact,

Steadfast, in the moment

And firmly rooted

To the Mother of All."
(Written January 17, 2005 on a cold and blustery winter morning as the wind blew outside my bedroom window)