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when the past pops out of nowhere: “can you help?” a search for motherlove

baby patrick screenshot

the message popped up out of nowhere late saturday afternoon. this is what it said:

Are you the individual that wrote the article in the Chicago Tribune back on March 10, 1987 – Titled, “Police Hunt Mother of Abandoned Baby”? If so, I wanted to ask you a couple questions. And by the way…, I am that baby!

my heart nearly pounded through my chest. i wracked my brain. i couldn’t for the life of me remember writing the story. how could i not remember? i typed the words into a google search, and sure enough, up popped this:

Police Hunt Mother Of Abandoned Baby
March 10, 1987|By Barbara Mahany.

that was me, all right. so i started to read:

Baby “Patrick Doe,“ oblivious to the stirrings about him, lay docile in his incubator at Central Du Page Hospital Monday, interrupting his sleep only for bottles of baby formula every four hours–or an occasional grimace for one of the many news photographers parading with cameras through the nursery.

Outside the nursery, Glen Ellyn police undertook their first-ever search for “a missing mother,“ said Lt. Dennis W. Jamieson, and the bureaucratic machinery was put in gear to assure safe-keeping for the baby should his mother not be found.

In the western suburb, a team of police investigators was dispatched to track down “a recently pregnant woman, . . . no longer pregnant and without a newborn,“ Jamieson said. Police were distributing flyers with black-and-white photographs of the baby, and a teletype bulletin to neighboring police departments had been sent over the wires.

Baby Patrick, a healthy white infant thought to be 4 or 5 days old and weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, was found early Saturday morning lying next to a redwood planter along the driveway of a home in an affluent Glen Ellyn neighborhood.

The baby, wrapped in two nightgowns and a plastic diaper bag, was discovered at 9:37 a.m. by George G. Dickey, of Lorraine Road, in Glen Ellyn. Dickey told police he first saw two plastic bags in his planter at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, but thought someone had dropped garbage there.

When he went outside three hours later, he saw the baby`s head poking out from one bag. The other bag was filled with five disposable diapers and diaper pins.

Dickey rushed the baby inside, his wife changed it out of its soaked nightgowns. The couple then called the police and the infant was taken by ambulance to Central Du Page.

He was initially considered at risk because his temperature registered below normal, 96 degrees Fahrenheit, but doctors said Monday that Patrick was “in very good health“ and listed him in good condition.

Because the baby`s umbilical cord was tied with a rubber band, hospital officials and police surmise the baby was not born in a hospital, preventing them from tracking down his mother through hospital records or birth certificates.

By mid-morning Monday, calls from prospective adoptive parents were trickling into the hospital in Winfield, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Adoptive Infant Center of Illinois.

“As far as prospective adoptive parents are concerned, this is a dream come true,“ said DCFS spokesman David Schneidman. “But for the poor soul who decided to leave this baby for adoption, this is the biggest tragedy on earth.“

On average, DCFS gets involved in about two abandoned infant cases each month, Schneidman said. But, he added, those babies are rarely Caucasian, and “never before from an affluent suburb like Glen Ellyn.“

Officially, DCFS is now the baby`s legal guardian, Schneidman said, and if the baby`s mother is not found by the time Patrick is discharged from the hospital at the end of the week, DCFS will coordinate foster care and eventually recommend the baby`s adoptive parents. If the mother is found, DCFS will be one of the complainants in a child neglect suit, and if deemed advisable, will assist in counseling the mother.

For now, though, the curly-haired baby is content to lie sucking his baby bottles, lullabyed by a crew of doting nurses. It was one of them who thought “Patrick“ to be the perfect name for a babe born so near the feast day of the Irish patron saint.

nearly 28 years ago.

and, through mysteries and miracles of this cyber-age, the baby, now grown, now wise to the ways of the internet, had found me. he’d been banging on doors, getting no answers. he was trying to find his birth mother.

he found me.

for the next couple hours, a flurry of emails zipped back and forth. he told me what he knew. i leapt into reporter mode. and, most of all, mother mode: i too am a mother now. and i have a boy of my own, two boys, the older of whom is a mere six years younger than “baby Patrick.” i couldn’t imagine my boy trying to find his mother. i couldn’t imagine how achingly dark and lonely it felt, on the cold february night when “baby Patrick” wrote me, to be emailing strangers trying to find a shred of hope, a thread that just might lead back to his mama.

every word i typed to “baby Patrick” i tried to type as if i were a long-lost mother, searching for my long-lost boy. i tried to fill each keystroke, each space in between, with all the love a mother would ooze, if she’d been away for nearly three decades.

in a stroke of sheer miracle by the end of the evening, i found the detective who’d worked the case. he’s retired now, lives not far away. i promised “baby Patrick” i’d call the very next day, sunday, when it wouldn’t be so odd for the phone to ring. when i stood the best chance of squeezing in the words, “former tribune reporter,” the only words that i thought might get my foot in the door, might keep the call from clicking into the hopeless drone of the dial tone, the sound of getting nowhere.

i called, not long after church on sunday. after two or three rings, someone answered. hope rose in my chest. i heard a “hello.” i shot right in with, “Lieutenant Jamieson?” using all my reporter politeness, using all my don’t-hang-up-on-me hope. i figured the lieutenant might warm to being remembered by his rank. i was right.

he warmed, all right. and, as soon as i explained the story, how i’d gotten an email from this blessed kid, this kid searching high and low for his mama, soon as i explained how the kid was getting nowhere, couldn’t get anyone to return his calls, how we had to try to help, and i wondered if maybe he remembered if there’d ever been any leads in the case, had anyone ever gotten a whiff of the mother, the lieutenant wrenched open the file cabinet of his memory, and promptly riffled straight to the folder marked, “baby Patrick, 03/87.”

in piercing detail he told me everything he remembered. how the particular house where the baby was left was one tucked back from the road. but, he explained, there was a planter, a flower pot, he called it, down by the curb. “good place to leave something if you want it to be found,” the lieutenant offered.

but here’s the part where you might wince: the fellow living in the house could see from the window something sticking out of the pot. “he thought it was garbage,” the lieutenant recalled. the fellow walked down the drive — three hours later — saw two plastic bags, and that’s when he saw there was a baby in one. a real live squawking baby.

far as the lieutenant knew, no clues had ever turned up. he was pretty sure he would have known if they’d found the mama, or any hint of the mama. he even mentioned how, over the years, he’d driven his wife by the house, thought of “baby Patrick” every time. and since i asked, since i’d called on a quiet sunday afternoon, made him think back over the decades, he did have ideas of where “baby Patrick,” now all grown up, having been adopted and deeply loved but still in search of whoever it was who dropped him off at the flower pot, the lieutenant had ideas of where “baby Patrick” could turn. in other words, at least a trace more hope.

sure thing, i hopped off the phone and wrote “baby Patrick” as swiftly and furiously as i could get my fingers to type. i drenched each letter of every word with all the love i could muster, with mama love.

i wasn’t his mother, not remotely. heck, i’d barely remembered the story at first — a fact that rinsed me in shame. but in the hour of his darkness, in the hour of his hope beyond hope, i could imagine — piercingly — just how deeply his mama might be typing if she were on the verge of finding her boy.

so i infused every word with mama love. i prayed mightily that that love might — through some wild-eyed, otherworldly, transitive property — flow from his faraway mama’s heart to mine and to his.

we signed off, at the end of 24 hours, with what i hope was a lasting trace of something that felt a wee bit like mother-and-son connection. but, honestly, i worry it might have left him emptier than before.

it hurt to tell him that there’d never been a trace. it hurt to tell him the part about the man in the house seeing what looked like garbage bags. (i couldn’t bear to type those words, “garbage bags,” so i didn’t; i wrote, “i think of how your mama loved you enough to tuck you in what she thought was a safe place..”)

it made me think how in life we never know when we’re called on to be the instruments of love, of stitching together a shattered heart. it made me think about how, in a story i’d not even remembered writing, there was a someone who found in it the one trace of hope he so needed.

it made me think how much it all matters.

i wish like anything i could have helped him find his mama. and, short of that, i’m so deeply grateful that for one short day, and a flurry of a few dozen emails, i could imagine the love and the fear that would have riveted that mama’s heart as she left her newborn curly-haired boy on the side of the road, in a place she was sure he’d be found, with the few bits she could gather — the extra sleeper, the five disposable diapers, and, most of all, the prayer that must have slipped across her lips. and lasted forever in the deep down crannies of her heart.

and that was sunday, the very same day we found out a dear dear friend was in the ER, and would likely be going in for brain surgery. which happened wednesday, her daughter flown home from her first year of college, her highschool-aged son sitting tight, on a hospital couch, pressed against his papa’s side, all through the very long day that stretched into the night. it’s been a week in which all i could do was pray, and pray, and pray. an apt beginning to lent, the season of repentance on the road to redemption.

the reasons for prayer are many this friday morning. and the question to ponder is this: have you ever discovered that you were an unsuspecting player in one of life’s core dramas? and did that discovery make you remember, all over again, how very much it matters that, at every turn, we live a life of pure attention to all that is holy and good and filled up with love?

special edition: love that colors outside the lines

boy with my heart

because this day of love just tiptoed in, and caught me breathless, i decided i need to post a love note today. to say thank you to all of you who have so lavished my heart — all our hearts — with so much tender hearted care. because you’ve illuminated otherwise shadowed nooks and crannies. because you’ve allowed this to be a carefully-curated corner of the world (cyber turned real) where what we practice is a love that colors outside the lines. that allows for the unorthodox. that sees no divisions, no divisions of hard-heartedness anyway. that invites the unfurling of our most tucked-away places, the places that are only just beginning to find a voice, a stammered whisper, as we put breath to words for the very first time. that ever ever holds up our hearts — our wobbly, not-so-certain, sometimes scared hearts — and declares, “you got this.”

because through the mysteries and miracles of time and wonder we’ve found our way to this place, this place we’ve carved out, like rivulets of stream to a river rock, it’s one place i’ve come to count on for sustenance of heart and soul. i put words out on the table. and, in holy communion, you lift them up, sift through, search for some nugget that speaks to you, and you in turn, in kind, lay down your wisdoms, your poetry, your bits and your snippets of radiance and grace. and by and by, we’ve got wisdom stew bubbling away. we’ve got love that colors outside the lines. we’ve got that little squeeze of the hand, of the shoulders, that chases away the cold. that propels us on. even on days when we’d otherwise crumble.

happy blessed day of uncanniest love. of all of us finding our way, here where love comes fierce and comes gentle, but always always washes over us, and bathes us in deepest-down holy.

ilove you heart

the stories we carry close to the heart

coffee cups. stories heart

i was late getting to the old maple table this morning. late, because i was drawn to another kitchen table before i could get to my own. some mornings are like that. some hours are like that.

i was drawn to a table where a mother i love wanted to talk. fueled on fresh-poured coffee, the tears soon enough flowed. the mother to whom i was talking buried her beautiful daughter just 20 months ago. we talked about grief, and the state of the heart after the dying. she talked about her blessing, the blessing of her daughter having had the time to wrestle her demons, and make peace before dying. she talked about another mother’s absence of blessing. a mother whose daughter was knocked dead in the dark of night, at a bitter cold bus stop, when a drunk driver — one who forgot to turn on the headlights of her car when she tumbled out of a tavern and slumped behind the wheel — drove into a tangle of college kids on the snow-piled side of a road, and so the mother of the beautiful girl who died — a “songbird,” my friend called her — never got the chance to have the last conversation you’d have if you knew in your heart this was the last. she worried that the last conversation between the other mother and child might have been more of the sort that mothers and children so often have: “did you remember to make your reservations for spring break?” “don’t forget to check your mailbox, i’m sending the boots you left under your bed.” or, maybe: “oh, sweetie, why don’t you just tell your friends how tired you are, and stay in and catch up on sleep tonight?”

the thing is, if you bumped into my friend in the grocery store, if you watched her tossing bunches of kale into her cart, while tossing rejoinders over her shoulder, witticisms that made anyone in earshot break into giggles (because she is that funny, and most often in high animation), you’d never in a million years guess how much heartache she’s borne. you’d not know that, after four hellish years battling the rarest of cancers, she buried that daughter, and has a son who won’t ever walk, nor utter a word, and whose meals are zipped in a blender and poured in a tube that goes straight to his belly.

my friend is but one of the ones who carries a story, a volume of stories, close to the heart.

she’s not alone. we all have a story. every day, chances are, there is one something weighting us down, bearing against our chest in ways that make it harder to breathe. it’s not always life shattering, but it might be the sort of worry that infuses even your sleep, wakes you up with a start, spares you no break from its drumbeat.

this week, on one particularly extraordinary morning, i found myself amid a circle of women who, one by one, let on that they too carried a story. and that’s what got me to thinking about how many of the myriad souls we bump up against in the course of the day are waging some unspoken battle, the likes of which we’ll never know. never imagine.

and thus, as wise philo of alexandria, the greek-speaking jewish philosopher, instructed: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

there was, first, the woman i’ve known for years, though not too terribly well. i’d once written a newspaper story about the children’s choir she long ago ran with clockwork precision. then, years later, when i wrote about my own mother’s breast-cancer battle, that same woman reached out and wrote how she, too, had been diagnosed the very same week, and knew by heart the battle. when i bumped into her just this week, she was sporting two very black eyes. she’d fallen, she said, changing a light bulb. seems after three bouts with cancer, she’d developed some bizarre syndrome that left her numb from the waist down — and apparently, it hasn’t much slowed her. and it was only in passing that she mentioned something about her son, mentioned for the very first time that he was quadriplegic.

“oh my gosh,” i interjected, “you have a son who is quadriplegic? was it an accident?”

she answered, softly, but hardly a whisper: “failed suicide. he was a freshman in high school. thirty-five years ago.”

i inhaled a very big prayer as i soaked in her words.

and then, just minutes later, after eggs and coffee were served, after i’d turned to my right, continued talking to a lovely woman i’d met three months earlier, this woman mentioned matter-of-factly that her upper chest was sore, and she’d be heading home to ice it. i asked if she’d pulled a muscle. “no,” she said, “i was diagnosed with breast cancer just before christmas. i had a double mastectomy four weeks ago.” and all morning, i’d only been thinking how elegant a figure she cut, with her sleek gold-buttoned black suit, her streaked-blonde bob, and her eloquent animated conversation.

we never know the stories carried close to the heart.

we never know when we’re sitting next to a woman who, day in and day out, worries about a son who can’t move a muscle. and who got there from the depths of unspeakable pain.

we don’t know that from the time we last spoke to someone till the moment we’ve once again bumped into that someone, she’s suffered the full-throttle blow of life turned on its spine: being told she has cancer, weighing the options and outcomes, and being wheeled off to surgery that will forever alter her God-given life-bearing body.

when you’re listening, when you keep your ear to the heart, these stories come and come swiftly. the calls from the doctor. the unexpected email. the squawk from the bedside radio, first thing in the morning. the reminder, over and over and over: these hours are precious, are holy. live as if each moment matters. because, the truth is, it does. and walk in radiant grace because we’ve really no clue who in our path is shattered, and broken, and deeply in need of the life-giving love with which we might bathe their wounds. or embolden their march into battle.

oh, goodness. it was either write about what really stirred me this week, or count up the 50 ways to really, truly tell someone you love them (in light of tomorrow’s feast of love, valentine’s day). seems i went with the truly stirring. forgive the darkness. the point is the light: the instruction to hold each hour, each encounter, each blessed someone, up to the radiance. life will come without pause, without bumpers to soften the blow. the instrument of healing, of love, is ours and ours alone: we can choose to tend with tender loving care. we can choose to be ever aware of who among us might bear more than we can imagine. we can lighten their load, and pray to God the favor’s returned when the load that needs bearing is ours. 

how are you stirred by philo’s instruction: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”? or, alternately, might you tell a bit about the unwitting saints who’ve lightened your load at the very moment when it all seemed unbearable?

the original mother nature (appearing elsewhere…)

American_Robin_Nest_with_Eggs

a note: a dear writerly friend of mine, laura lynn brown, author of “everything that makes you mom,” and the award-winning essay, “fifty things about my mother,” published by iowa review and slate, has carved out a writing place for all things motherly. it’s called “makes you mom,” and in her ever generous ways, she asked if she might pick something i wrote about my mama and post it there, as she begins her library of motherliness. i would do anything for laura, so i said yes. it’s posted there this morning, and in hopes of helping more readers find her newfound corner of the cyberworld, where soon enough laura and her team of writerly compatriots will be accepting submissions, i’m pointing you toward laura’s lovely new botanically-bedecked site. and even though a monday post feels a bit like getting out of bed and forgetting to change out of my jammies, here’s the pull up a chair post (originally written in 2007) that dear laura chose to post. i’ll include the first few grafs here, but to read it to the end, you’ll need to click the link. that’s how the cyberworld often works. and how it works this fine and foggy monday morning…..

we didn’t know it, her little brood. we thought everyone’s home movies had pans of tree tops, flashes of scarlet tanager in between the frames of children waddling, waving, being silly for the camera.

coulda fooled us. didn’t every mother teach her hatchlings to hush when an oriole was in the yard? to rush out and scatter halves of oranges, the winged things’ sweet reward for populating her old oaks.

doesn’t everyone get daily, heck, hourly if warranted, phone calls with the up-to-the-minute news of the baby screech owls whose mama pirated the wood duck house, high up in the trees, and taught her babies to fly, right over my mama’s head?

when you grew up with my mama, you took these things for granted. you had no clue how much you’d learned, how much she’d taught you about the world of God’s creation while other children were merely trying to memorize the capitals of algeria, and bolivia, and, perhaps, the republic of congo.

it came slowly to my attention one day sitting in the newsroom, when an extremely intelligent friend of mine, a friend who grew up in queens, was wondering what the red bird was, not the one with the orange belly, she said, but the one that was red all over.

you mean the cardinal? i asked, as if she’d asked which letter followed C.

but you didn’t even look that up in a book, she cried, unnecessarily impressed.

well, no. but my mama is the original mother nature. or at least my original mother nature, my very own earth mama. and some things, you just absorb.

(to keep reading, please click the link below….)

http://makesyoumom.com/original-mother-nature/

blessings, and see you friday, when i will remember to get out of bed and change out of my jammies…

and while you’re at it, please tell your friends about “makes you mom,” and the lovely work my dear friend laura is unfurling…..

heartbeat home

heartbeat home clock

it’s quiet here this morning, too quiet. it’s been that way for 10 long weeks.

the only sound is the susurration of the furnace. poor overtaxed furnace. burning kilowatts to try to keep us warm, to keep the goosebumps at bay.

the missing sound is the tick that follows the tock that follows the tick. and on and on and on.

there’s a clock, an old old clock, one once packed up in a florida house, laid carefully atop a formica-slabbed kitchen table, not unlike a baby after a bath, wrapped in towels, slipped in a box, and carefully carefully sent from west palm beach to chicago. where, once it arrived, we lifted it, hung it, wound it, and listened.

i’ve been listening ever since.

i’ve aligned my heart to the tick and tock of that old clock — a clock whose provenance we have only guessed at. i thought dutch. a clocksmith told me “mexican.” what i do know of its provenance is that my beloved, that tall bespectacled fellow, had a grandpa who loved clocks. and that grandpa’s pride and joy — or the ticking one, anyway — was his wall of clocks from across the time line and the world map. that wall, in that house down florida way, it clanged and squawked and chimed, a ticking-tocking  quarter-hour reverie.

i never met that grandpa, but the grandma to whom he’d long been paired, she became, in one fell swoop, the dearest grandma i ever knew. i might have spent the rest of my happy days bopping around as the irish catholic granddaughter of a teeny, wrinkled, jewish fireball, but she died 11 years ago this week, far too soon even though she was pushing 93 and change. they called her the “teaneck tornado,” my jewish grandma, the one who took college classes into her eighties, the one who once threatened to fly a slab of cow in her suitcase so she could teach me how to make a brisket. the one whose squeaky “barb!” — a puncturing pronunciation that launched every long-distance rapid-fire tete-a-tete — i still can hear, without even closing my eyes to crank the long-gone volume.

that grandma — her name was syl — she shipped off the clock, and twice a week for 23 years, i wound it. the rest of the time, i counted on it to keep the rhythms of my hours, to be the heartbeat of our house. it moved, in the back seat of the station wagon, from our city house to this old house out where lanes are leafy and the lake is near enough that, on a windy day, i can make out the rhythms of the waves shooshing against the shore.

and there’s no sound that says “i’m home” more certainly than the tick and tock and quarter-hour chime of that old timekeeper.

so when it slowed to the silence that follows the tick, when i realized the tock was not coming, we all stared wide-eyed at the wall. as if there’d been a death in the family. certainly, there’d been a silencing. the heartbeat of the house was gone, erased, snuffed out. and in a house where these days most every purchase is weighed, is considered, we didn’t take lightly the news that this clock’s stay in the timekeeper’s infirmary would tally quite a bill.

but, not unlike the ancient cat who prowls the soft spots of the house, the house’s heartbeat is beyond domestic calculation, outside the accountant’s domain. if your striped old cat is ailing, you wrap the furry fellow in a towel and you ferry him to the vet. so, too, the clock.

i swallowed hard as i lifted the old clock from the wall. and, yes, i wrapped it in old bath towels. i parked as close to the door of the timekeeper’s shop as i could get — anything to slash the chance of me and the clock skittering to the sidewalk, in a thousand irreparable pieces. and i turned it over with all the solemnity of a mother sending off her little boy for a tonsillectomy (okay, maybe minus the tears, but trembling nonetheless).

we endured a christmas without a clock, and the new year too slid in without the ceremonial clang-clang-clang (our old clock never has been aligned with the hours). heck, we bumbled right through ground hog day without the metronome of time passing audibly. and here we are, the clock is coming home today. any hour now, i’ll strap on my snow boots, maybe even add the yaxtrax to keep from slipping on the ice, and i’ll plow through mounds and glide on icy patches to fetch my clock and bring it back where it belongs — home, hanging on the red-red wall that’s been achingly absent its old, old ticker.

all this, of course, has got me to thinking. thinking about how it is that humans are hard-wired to the song of the heartbeat. how it’s the first of the sensory awakenings in the unborn child. long before the eyes have anything to see, the human eardrum begins its lifelong percussive beat (if, God willing, the auditory system is developing as hoped and prayed). somewhere between the 17th and 19th week in a mama’s womb, the unborn baby’s world is wakened to the sound of breath and heartbeat, rhythm and vibration at their most elemental, most soothing i’d imagine.

the wonderful scientists who study these things have found, among other pulse-quickening wonders, that the baby’s heart echoes the mother’s response to music. when the mama hears soothing dulcet tones, her baby’s heart settles into slow steady intervals. when the mama is jarred by cacophony, by dissonant screeching, the baby’s heart rate accelerates, startles.

hearing, we know, is the last of the earthly threads to be severed when death is but a breath or two away.

so is it any wonder that in the blessed interval between in utero and death, we humans turn to heartbeat — be it of a clock, or the drip of rain, or our own ear pressed against the chest of whoever it is we love deeply enough, tenderly enough, to be invited to the chest wall’s quiet ticking?

and is it any wonder that some of us are soothed by whatever brings us back in time and rhythm to that one first murmuring, that percussive pounding, that told us we were safe, enwombed, nestled up against a mama’s ever-pulsing heart?

what are some of your favorite soothing sounds? 

long ago, back in 2007, on the jewish “new year of the trees,” known as tu b’shevat, which we marked this week, i wrote a meander called vernal whisperings. because it’s a moment of the jewish calendar that i find especially breathtaking, i’m offering it back here at the table.

here’s a bit of tu b’shevat’s deliciousness, as taught by 16th century mystics:

“known as the kabbalists, these deeply spiritual thinkers believed that we elevate ourselves by the eating of certain fruits on tu b’shevat. if done with holy intention, they taught, sparks of light hidden in the fruit could be broken open from their shells, freed to float up to heaven, to the great divine, completing the circle of the renewal of life.

“oh my.”

sixty…a long, long love story.

artginny

sixty.

sixty years ago today, on a crisp january sunday, two people i love walked into the plaza hotel at fifth avenue and central park south in new york city, the very hotel where precocious eloise lipsticked the walls, roller-skated the corridors and poured water down the mail chute of the neo-rococo gatsby-esque overnight chateau. the two i love were married there. moved into an old gardener’s cottage nestled between the two rivers of fair haven, new jersey. and two-and-a-half years later, had a baby boy. five years after that, they carried home to the cottage a beautiful baby girl.

and 29 years after that, i married their firstborn. so, going on a mere 24 years this august, my beloved and i are lowly pikers in the marriage department (compared, that is, to the ones clocking their diamond anniversary today). the ones married at the plaza, they’ve long been teaching us how it’s done — this business of loving across the arc of time, of holding each other up in sickness and in health, in heart-wrenching moments and moments so fine they make you think you could reach right out and touch the stars.

this morning, for the first of the 60 anniversary mornings, there will be no shared breakfast at the maple table in the red-walled kitchen. there will be no bagel sliced and barely-buttered. no stack of vitamins tucked by the edge of the red plate, where my mother-in-law always tucked them. there will be no single cup of coffee with a splash of skim milk, one cup shared by two pairs of lips, the way they’ve always sipped their coffees. this afternoon, perhaps, my mother-in-law will help adjust the wheelchair at the dining table in the lovely place they call the atrium, the place where my dear father-in-law now lives.

in a world where only six percent of american marriages make it to the 50th anniversary — and guessing drastically fewer make it to the 60th — there is much to be learned from those that do. and while i’ve not sat down to ask a slew of pesky nosey questions, i have been watching. and since i’ve lived since 1991 with the son of that solid pair, i’ve had lots of mornings, noons and nights to ponder this living, breathing organism, the long-haul marriage.

it’s the unlikeliest of arrangements, for starters. did you ever think you’d want anyone to know that some nights you tumble into bed without washing your face, or that you gobble down a humongous bowl of popcorn at the long day’s end — no matter how late the hour? would you ever want anyone to know how scared you get before you stumble toward a microphone, or how your heart practically pounds through your chest when you raise your hand in class, or — sometimes — speak up at a dinner party? or how, once upon a time, you worried yourself into such a stew convincing yourself that the black space in your unborn baby’s ultrasound was proof that the sweet child was going to be born without a brain? and, further, you convinced yourself that the doctors just couldn’t find the words to let you in on this terrible news. and then, when you found out you’d been a total fool and the brain was fully lodged right where it was meant to be, the dear fellow who’d been gobsmacked all weekend by your worries, he didn’t even dare to toss a chilly “told you so!” in your much-deserved direction.

oh, and that’s just a teeny wedge of the intimacies that long connections bring. i mean, the standing naked — the showing off your pudgy belly, your jiggly thighs — that’s NOTHING compared to the soul-baring that comes with years spent sharing each other’s crowded space.

and there are days — maybe even months or years — when you spend way too much time considering the exit door.

but you never go.

a.) because you’re blessed beyond words that whatever isn’t right is fixable — because, oh, lordy, we all find our lives — our inner, dearest circles — populated with friends and loved ones for whom the fixing was not there — death, disease, inherited pathology, deceit. the reasons are too many and too heartbreaking.

and then, there’s b.) we choose to fix it, to work it through, to strike a peace accord. because deep down in our marrow we’re betting on this marriage thing, this connection bound through love or law, divine or secular. we’ve invested whole hog in this institution that, not unlike a pair of lungs, expands and contracts, fills with oxygen, and sometimes leaves us gasping.

and after you’ve weathered days or weeks or months of second-guessing, and you find the clouds have scuttled off, you remember once again just why it was that something deep down inside you — something that maybe didn’t even have a voice, was no more than life-divining force — you remember why you surrendered to it long ago. why you dared to wrench open your trembling heart, and let in the one best shot you had at being wholly alive.

because this someone to whom you’ve aligned no less than your very soul, this someone has breathed wholeness into you. this someone has seen who you could be, sometimes long before you could even begin to glimpse that possibility.

in my case, the man i married teaches me every single day what patience looks like. what tender loving care is meant to be. i watch him lavishly rub circles on our little guy’s back, there in the hollow between the angel blades, on the nights when sleep won’t come, or ghosts have come to haunt the little guy’s bedroom. i watch the man i love drive eight hours for a regatta in which the glimpse of a passing kid — a kid in a boat being rowed by eight or four muscled pairs of arms — lasts for maybe five seconds. and not a complaint, not a single complaint, is ever lodged.

in my case, the man i married has patiently waited for the three long years i’ve not had a paycheck. and he’s been the biggest believer that if i dared to spread my wings, i just might find the breeze he believes is there. and for a girl who never ever thought she could be good enough, it is the holiest thing in the whole wide world to wake up every morning to a fellow who utterly and absolutely believes that, armed with nothing but my heart and my words, i might infuse a dash of goodness in the world.

the man i love learned all this because he grew up in a house where that’s what love looked like. that’s what marriage meant. thick and thin. sickness and health. richer and poorer.

sixty years.

may the God of goodness, the God of love, shine down today on the ones who, back on january 30, 1955 — when “bad day at black rock” was playing at the picture shows, and the ames brothers’ “the naughty lady of shady lane” was number 1 on the charts — back then, those blessed two began to etch their story in the marbled walls of time.

the lovely black-and-whites above, that’s my papa-in-law, the newspaper man, blowing out his birthday candles (in 1970, i do believe), and the radiant-faced one (which i can’t get to nestle side-by-side, and so is just below), a teacher nestled with her little charges, that’s my beloved mother-in-law, one of the loyalest readers of the chair that ever there was or will be. bless them both. i love them with all my heart. 

i don’t often — rarely ever — write about one of the deepest connections of my life, my marriage. this one is stirred by the big anniversary. and i know — too well — that the true intimacies of any marriage don’t belong anywhere near the public square. as well as the truth that so many of the folks i love most dearly have chosen not to be in such a union. or have life-savingly mustered all the courage in the world to step free from one that suffocated or shattered them and the dearest ones they loved. but these days i so often find myself pondering the truth that a marriage, especially a getting-long one, is practically its own living, breathing entity. across the arc of time, it ever shifts, deepens. it’s the deepening that most captivates me, and i can only scratch that surface here. so the question i bring to the table, one for which everyone might have some answer, is this: what is it about the deepening relationships of your life, the ones that last across the years, and survive rocky terrain, dry seasons, and an abundance of struggles, what has that deepening brought you, and why is it so essential? and what invites the deepening?

happy blessed diamonds, dear A and G. xoxox

wedding

soul pickings…

book pickings

pray tell, you might ask, what is she doing now? perhaps, given the tower of pages above, i’m devising a rube-goldbergian contraption for felling the wintertime ants that dare to cross my kitchen table. or, perhaps, it’s the latest in literary aerobics: hoist this pile off the tabletop and see how many jumping jacks i can count — before dropping the load on my poor baby toes, or tumbling under the weight of the heart-pumping challenge.

or, perhaps this: in the plummest assignment a girl could dream up, my old newspaper, the chicago tribune, has asked me to basically peruse the literary all-you-can-eat and fill my tray with the juiciest morsels — month after month after month. now, you’ll not find me weighing the caloric wonders nor the narrative arc of sultry page turners. and i won’t be digesting the latest in graphic novels, or avant-garde fiction. my little assignment, which runs on the pages of the tribune’s literary supplement, printers row journal (special subscription only), is called “round up: books for the soul.” and i’ll be lassoing soul-stirrers every four to six weeks.

and, in case you hadn’t already guessed, my definition of soul is a broad one, a deep one, so watch out bookshelves, i’m coming right at you. i’ve been asked to mine the lists of just-published pages to pluck out the ones that stir me — and maybe you — the most deeply. in my book, that means children’s picture books are near the top of the pile. and so too is the 8.4-pound, 4,448-page, two-volume whopper, the norton anthology of world religions, a collection i could — and i will — spend the rest of my days inhaling. it means poetry and essay, and even a book of black-and-white images with very few words, if that finds a way to the depth of the place that stirs us, inspires us, sets us wanting to right the world’s wrongs (or at least to course-correct the fumblings that hold us back from all whom we were meant to be).

at the moment, i’m whittling my latest short list down to the final three, and i’ll be defending my picks in short pithy blurbs — all to be handed over to my editor by monday morn. while i can’t let on here what’s next on the docket, i can pass along the trinity of titles that were picked for the perch of the new year, the first installation in what promises to be a perpetual devotion.

a marvelous and hilarious side note on the list just below. when dear, marvelous, and often quite wacky anne lamott spied the review online (i had no idea it had even been edited, yet alone posted) she went bonkers with joy, and declared it “the single best review anyone has ever gotten in the history of publishing,” which made me chuckle on an otherwise gloomy new-year’s-eve day, and slam-dunked my certainty that hyperbole is a jocular, life-giving art. when last i checked, a mere 24,362 of annie’s beloved friends had “liked” the review on facebook, and i for one was simply tickled that ms. lamott felt the love, as it were. (may we all know the joy of being loved out loud, over and over and over again….)

here, with no further ado, is my first round of round ups: books for the soul. i cannot emphasize emphatically enough how wonderful each title is. nor how very much i love this assignment that has me back in the news pages i love. (i’ll post the link, but i don’t think it will work if you don’t already have a tribune subscription. just in case, though, click here.)

Round Up: Books for the Soul 
By Barbara Mahany

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
By Anne Lamott, Riverhead Books, 304 pages, $22.95

Anne Lamott is practically a household word in the peeling-back-the-soul department. She’s utterly disarming. She’s hysterically funny. One minute, you’re falling off your chair laughing, and the next, you’re gasping for air, because Lamott has just unfurled a sentence that cuts straight to the heart of what you really needed to know. She’s been doing that for so many books now (this is her ninth nonfiction title), I keep thinking she’ll run out of ways to take my breath away.

Which is why I didn’t expect to see her latest collection of essays tumble into my short list of soulful treasures. I was wrong, so wrong. Lamott is one in a million. Who else would make this leap, writing of a moment that’s so serene and holy, “I was sure I was going to end up dating the Dalai Lama.” Or: “I thought such awful thoughts I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

Hers is an inimitable mix of irreverence and deep-down holy wisdom. Her wit is so sharp, her synapses fire so quickly, she deftly connects the dots and vaults across the spiritual landscape like nobody else. Never suspecting we’re about to come around some light-drenched bend, we practically sputter when she steers us head-on into one of her wild-eyed illuminations.

Lamott grounds the holy in the messy, hilarious, madcap adventure that is her life. And she sees the truth so piercingly perceptibly, we’re left slack-jawed and wiser in her wake.

Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden
By Karen Maezen Miller, New World Library, 192 pages, $15.95

This little slip of a book, like the best of all soulful books, slips deep in your soul practically unnoticed. Suddenly, you’re sitting bolt upright, because you’ve been reading quietly along and you realize you’ve just inhaled a sentence that packs a spiritual wallop.

As in: “We live stupefied by our own deep terror, our unmet fears. Out of fear, we crush our own spirits, break our own hearts and — if we don’t stop — rot our own flesh,” writes Miller, a Zen priest and teacher, in an essay about crossing the threshold of fear. “All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot and place it in front of the other.”

Miller’s plainspoken wisdom, the essence of her Zen Buddhist practice, is couched in the story of discovering and tending a long-neglected 100-year-old Japanese garden, the paradise in her own Southern California backyard. Amid a landscape of rocks and ponds and pines and orange trees heavy with fruit, Miller doles out Zen lessons on fearlessness, forgiveness, presence, acceptance and contentment.

“This book isn’t really about Zen, and it isn’t really about gardening,” writes Miller in the prologue. “It might seem like I’m talking to myself, but I’m talking to you. Now, about this paradise. You’re standing in it.”

Indeed, you needn’t be a gardener, nor inclined to long hours of meditation, nor a disciple of Zen. And you certainly needn’t travel to the nearest Japanese garden to unearth the truths Miller so generously lays at your mud-sodden soles.

The Lion and The Bird
By Marianne Dubuc, Enchanted Lion Books, 64 pages, $17.95

A so-called children’s book, a picture book, among the most soul-lifting books of the year? Why, yes. Emphatically yes.

Tripping upon this marvel of a book, by French Canadian designer and illustrator Marianne Dubuc, is to tumble into a tale of unforgettable tenderness — the story of a lion who finds a wounded bird in his garden one autumn day and nurses it back to flight, a winter’s convalescence of warmth and friendship that banishes loneliness, for lion and bird. It’s one that tears at and stitches together again the heart.

Words here are spare, as are the pencil-shaded drawings, and thus the tempo is slow, the mood quiet. It’s the intimate details that draw in the reader, and thus the reader’s heart — the wounded bird pecking seed off a dinner plate, little bird dozing the night away curled inside lion’s bedside slipper, bird peeking out of lion’s winter cap as the two lumber off for a romp in the snow.

By spring, when bird is healed and its flock returns, a nod to the sky is all lion needs to know that it’s time for bird to leave, to put flight to his wings. And so, the summer is passed — lion alone. Come autumn, lion can’t help but wonder, can’t help but study the canvas of sky. And then, after two achingly empty pages, a musical note exalts on a page. There’s bird, perched on the limb of a tree. Lion’s heart leaps — and so does the reader’s.

It’s a lesson in unspoken, ineffable love. And it unspools in gentlest wisps. Sometimes, that’s all the soul needs.

Barbara Mahany is the author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014). Twitter: @BarbaraMahany

and what books would you add to a list of those fine for the soul? even though i’m limited to just-published titles, you can add all-time favorites, classics, can’t-live-withouts to this ever-lengthening list…..(and i promise to keep posting once the round ups take their twirl in the tribune…)

old sweater: ode to wrap-around-you love

old sweater vertical

some mornings, in the swift fractions between bare foot to floorboard, shuffle across the bedroom rug, and tumble into closet, i just know: it’s an old sweater sort of day.

a day when i need to feel my arms slide through the nubby sleeves, feel the wool scratch against me, pull the torso tight around my chest. i need to feel the wrap-around-you love that comes from pulling on an old, old sweater. a sweater that once belonged, and still — if you breathe deep and with all your heart — holds the sweet scent of the someone long ago who wore it. whose chest filled out its threads. whose warmth inhabited. whose whole self animated, in a way that — standing alone in the dark, cold closet — you still can see, as if a picture show before your eyes.

it’s been one of those weeks around here.

every day, an old sweater. truth be told, every day the same old sweater (fashion-forward is not a name you’d put to me, queen of holey jeans and banged-up clogs, and T shirts worn till rags). it’s a navy one, with suede patches on the sleeve. one the maker calls its “shaggy dog.” other than calling it a teddy-bear crew neck (one minus knitted-in images of bears, thank you), i can’t think of a better name for a sweater that fills its particular prescription: dust off the lonely flakes, embolden for the day ahead, stick close and keep the cold at bay. and not necessarily the temperature. more like the draft that comes when you feel all alone, a bit lonely, searching for that particular someone who steadies you, brings ballast to your wobbling hours.

it’s winter here. deep winter. a season i love. but the fellow who inhabits this house with me, the one i married nearly a quarter century ago, he’s been away. so it’s just me and the little one, faring for ourselves. and while i love the quiet hours stitched into each day, i find myself a wee bit lost. i find myself braving winds and cold. i’m without the markers at the start and end of each long day, when usually the door clicks open and in walks the lanky fellow, his glasses frosted up from cold. his cheeks pink from wind. his stories fresh, and filling up the room.

i’ve thought a lot this week about those i love who are missing someone. everyone misses someone sometime. sometimes for the rest of your living breathing days. you can’t go too long in this life before death comes, or leave-taking of some other kind steals the one you love. there are a million algorithms that all wind up with a big fat hollow at the end. there’s a kid i love who’s gone away, simply because he grew up and found a leafy college, far far from here. there’s a dad i loved, with all my heart; he up and died. no goodbye. just a blizzard and a phone call and a doctor standing in the blazing white corridor, saying, oddly, “i’m so sorry.” there’s a grandma, who wasn’t even mine by birth, just by heart. and every time i tumble in my closet, i see her cherry red, gold-buttoned cardigan. i don’t often put it on. but i love knowing that it’s there, in the stack of old sweaters just waiting to do their job: wrap my arms and chest, make like soft-looped armament, a shield that holds me tight, that makes me remember a certain hug, a certain chest against which i leaned and pressed my ear, drinking in a steady heartbeat. a heartbeat that steadied me, that launched me, that served as grounding rod and metronome for the songs i’d yet to let loose from the canyon of my hopes and dreams and wobbles.

sometimes in life we need to grope for tangible knowing that we’re not alone. not deep down, anyway. there are someones from the past, who swirl around us still. who pulse through us. and sometimes simply shoving a fist, an arm, down a narrow sleeve, it’s all the rubbing-up-against-us we need to convince ourselves that, once again, we can face the day. we can march out of the bedroom closet, armed for what the day will bring.

no one can see the someone we’ve tucked into for the day. but we know. we know we’re not alone. and the stack of old, moth-worn, years-stretched sweaters, they’re there to guide us on our ways. to enfold us. to brace us from the chill that’s sure to blow through all the cracks.

what armaments do you reach for when your day begs for emboldening? or your heart just needs an extra layer of fortitude, of resilience, of remembering how deeply it is loved?

once, i had a dream…(or slowing time in real time)

harlene slow time

reading cornerslowing time circle

the wintry night couldn’t have made it more daunting. the roads were thick with snow, hadn’t seen a hungry plow. the winds began to whip. the flashing sign on the highway warned that it would take two hours, nine minutes, to snail our way (a mere 11 miles) to the spaghetti bowl of interchanges that only then could shoot us out the next long stretch of byway.

we were, with all our might, trying to get to the little town that once was home to frank lloyd wright and ernest hemingway. a bungalow, candle lit by then, would soon be filled with folk who’d come to taste a wintry eve of slowing time.

we’d be lucky if we got there by 10. and the evening was slotted to unfurl at seven bells. our bellies lurched as we did the math, realized the full throttle of our predicament. and then the car began to shake — convulse, more like it. i thought perhaps it was on the verge of blowing up. or, perhaps, merely screeching off the icy bridge. turned out to be the wheels protesting the ice that stood between the tire treads and traction.

by stroke of side streets, and the zany map in which chicago plows the backroads but not the main roads, we managed to get there at the stroke of half past seven. we’d zigged and zagged and beat the doomsday clock.

once we walked inside the golden-glowing house on grove street, we were soothed. slowed. wrapped in candle light and logs crackling on the fire.

the one who’d done the dreaming up of all of this — a lovely woman named harlene who lives to find the common thread that weaves us all together — she was stirring at the slow time pot, the name she’d pinned to the cauldron of three-bean chili, thick with chicken, zinged with squeeze of lime, the one she’d cooked all sunday.

i got predictably teary-eyed soon after walking in. i only knew four of the 30-some folk who were huddled round the wine, the chips, the hearth. they’d come, i whispered to my flabbergasted self, to hear a bit of slowing time.

oh, it takes a rather packed equation to make a dream come true. but what stirred as i slowly made my way to the stove, to sidle up to the one stirring the chili, was the knowing that i was walking through a dream.

the dream, born long ago, was something like this: what if, in a world that chatters so noisily few can make out any sense, what if we quietly carved out a sacred place, a safe place where words and hearts were shared, and harshness never was invited? what if we could mine the landscape of our simple ordinary lives, our messy stumbling fumbling lives, the one where day after day we try again to get it right? what if we might gather kindred spirits, and hold each other up, on the days when we wobble, yes, but even on the rarer days when we swear we just might glow a little hallelujah glow?

what if, from time to time, the holiness leapt off the screen, or off the page, and took shape in real time, with the flesh of human hands reaching across the table, or real tears slowly mapping their way down a cheek, across a lip, and off the precipice of chin?

what if there were real circles of real chairs in real living rooms? what if stories flowed, and hearts opened, and voices dared to speak beyond the whisper of talking to ourselves?

and there i was: inside the dream. surrounded by smart and soulful women. surrounded by women who’d left behind their day jobs, their kids, their noisy little lives to brave the bitter cold, the whipping snow, and the slip-slidey front steps, to slow time long enough to share a wintry evening’s conversation, to turn a page or three. and, not too much later, to step back into the icy night, behold the glowing arc of moon, and feel a heart a wee bit fuller.

these past few months — the months since slowing time (the book) was birthed — have invigorated and tested, and stretched and stung from time to time. but all of it, every butterfly in my belly, every sleepless hour of the night, even gasping aloud when i was called a “very pagan wiccan,” (yes, ouch), it’s all been the road to last night’s dream come true. and the even-longer potholed path to putting life to hope, to faith, to believing that — whatever it is — it might be done.

so here’s the wondering aloud: might we all not birth a dream? a simple dream, perhaps; maybe just to make it through a morning without the sound of harsh screeching from our throat. or maybe, take it up a notch and declare we’ll paint, we’ll write, we’ll knit till kingdom come — whatever is the shape and form you put to your creative genius (and, oh, yes, it’s genius, all right. every one of us was born with speck of genius, and is it not our job to figure out just how to let that genius out from wherever it’s been hiding all these years?).

what if we envision a world where unlike minds sit in quiet conversation? what if we pray all in one room — jews, muslims, buddhists, christians, wiccans, and, yes, druids, too? whether it’s filling the empty belly of one hungry child, or disrupting the hollow loneliness of the old man next door who sits all by himself, hour after hour. whether it’s tackling tolstoy at long last. or committing to memory every last line of emily dickinson, or maya angelou, or w.s. merwin.

what if we dig down deep and pull out our wildest dream, and then day after day, sometimes after weeks have slipped away unnoticed, what if, little by little, we added flesh to the bones of that dream, and one cold winter’s night, we walked into a bungalow, where bowls of oranges and chocolates waited by the door, where chili bubbled on the cookstove, and women’s words whirled through kitchen and keeping room, dining room and parlor?

what if we all believed that, given time and hope and the great gift of friends who pick us up every time we stumble, skin our knees, or feel our hearts get knocked around far too achingly, even our wildest little dream might come tumbling true?

what’s your dream?

libationslowing time kitchenharlene at the chili pot

and how might you begin to make it come to life?

and here’s an invitation: perhaps you too have a circle of souls you love — or even ones you barely know — and you, like beautiful harlene above, might put a pot of something bubbly on the cookstove, pull chairs into a circle, and softly, quietly, openly, invigorate the night with what you know to be beautiful, and holy, and deeply needed in this aching, sometimes scary world…(p.s. of course i don’t mean a slowing time night, per se, just a night in which you gather with great good souls and carve out time for what deeply matters. in real time. slow time…)

and from the bottom of my heart, harlene, bless you and thank you and thank you…..

the blessing of beginnings

new year sky

i’m just in from my morning rounds, my make-believe that i’m the caretaker of the dawn. the nubs of my fingers are nearly numb, for i stayed out too long. i was breathing in the heavens, breathing in the star-stitched sky, scanning for the disappearing moon, the moon playing peek-a-boo this morning.

the world was just rustling out of its bedsheets — or so it seemed. the trees whispered. off in the distance, a train let out its morning moan. i might have caught the stirring of the cardinal’s wing. or maybe it was a night critter, finally ambling home to bed. something in the bushes moved.

i know no holier way to greet the day, the morning light. i know no holier way to unfurl the carpet for the year that’s new, that’s just beginning. today, the dash between the first and third, the dash between the world’s new year and mine (my birthday is a string of primes: 1.3.57), is wholly a day of quiet rapt attention. i’m crouched down low, tucked off to the side, scanning the year ahead, the days of possibility. i’m considering what might come — what might break my heart, what might take my breath away, what might bowl me over with pure sheer joy.

i’ve come to think that my time-delay birthday is one of the gosh-darn blessings in this life that pretty much dropped down upon me. sort of like the curly hair that i’ve come to realize has saved me zillions of dollars in pink sponge rollers i’ve not had to buy, or hours not spent in the beauty parlor chair where alchemy and goop put curl to other people’s stick-straight locks. i had nothing to do with odd birthday or curly locks — or any of what amounted to my starter package, really. but, along the way, i’ve learned to make the most of it.

so my year comes on tiptoes. my year slinks in around the bend. no crash-bang-boom for me. i take my new year launch in itty-bitty baby steps. i’ve three days to consider the turning of the page.

and there’s little i love as much as a new beginning, a chance to start again. to dust off my knees, inhale a deep and cleansing breath, and make a vow: this time, dear God, i’ll try even harder.

try harder to bite my tongue when the words are bunched up in my throat, just ready to launch a harsh, “will you PLEASE hurry up! will you PLEASE clean your room! will you GET OUT OF BED!”

try harder to breathe deep the mantra of dorothy day and st. therese of lisieux: “by little and by little.” as in, by little acts of kindness, by little courage, by little acts of love in the face of awfulness, we stand our one best chance to take up a notch this life that sometimes scrapes our knees and gives us hives and burns our eyes with stinging tears.

because it’s worth a pause within the pause, here’s a passage from robert ellsberg’s brilliantly edited and annotated, ‘dorothy day: selected writings':

“simply, it consisted of performing, in the presence and love of God, all the little things that make up our everyday life and contact with others. from therese, dorothy learned that any act of love might contribute to the balance of love in the world, any suffering endured in love might ease the burden of others; such was the mysterious bond within the body of Christ. we could only make use of the little things we possessed — the little faith, the little strength, the little courage. these were the loaves and fishes. we could only offer what we had, and pray that God would make the increase. it was all a matter of faith.”

i suppose, because i seem to circle back to it every year, it’s becoming my new year prayer. it’s the only way i know — by little and by little — to take the mountain climb.

i’m certain there’s a wise person somewhere who realized the only way to change the world was one baby step at a time. in my scant few moments of insight — when the world before my eyes snaps crystal clear and sharply focused, instead of all a blur and hard to comprehend — i suddenly grasp that most folks who are making a difference, a big fat difference, are doing it with no more magic than you or i possess. they’re simply smart enough — or unfazed enough — to realize that one step firmly planted in front of another, that one phone call made, or one question bravely asked, or one trip across the street or across the ocean (it hardly matters which, sometimes), just might be the one that starts to pile up, to tilt momentum in the direction of holy change, in the difference between a world that is and a world that just might be.

maybe it’s time to steal a play from the smart-people’s play book: the baby-step guide to living. maybe it’s time to line up in the baby-step brigade.

for one thing, there’s less of a realignment when, inevitably, i flub it. taking a deep breath and trying again is a whole heck of a lot easier when all you need do is “take two” in the baby step department. but baby step + baby step = toddler step. and toddler step + toddler step = well, you get the math.

so here’s my prayer for this new and not-yet-scripted year:

dear Holiness, cast your rays of sparkling light — of shaft of sun, and dappled moonbeam — across my pot-holed path.

give me grace to hold my words, to not engage in prattling on about the wacky folk who try to topple me. give me grace — and wisdom, and a dash of far-sightedness — to live each day as if it’s my one last chance to leave a trail of the world as holy as i imagine it could be.

give me one last puff of energy on the evenings when i’m drained, and the phone rings and it’s someone i love who needs to talk it through, whatever is the hell the one i love has just encountered.

give me forgiveness in dollops. give me, please, enough to share it with abandon — most especially on those who try to take me down, who call me names that break my heart, who whisper unkind somethings.

dear God, thank you for bringing me once again to the crest of this next hill. thank you for the chance to look out upon the undulations of years past and days ahead. hold me in your tender palm, and those blessed unshakable arms. be the hand i squeeze when i get scared. and the pure fresh air that fills my lungs.

dear God, help me take it up a notch. and be ready with the band-aids when i fall and skin my knees.

much love, always, b.

dear chair people, can you see the itty bitty dot of light in that picture up above? just above the filigree of tree? that’s the ringed wonder, saturn. and just before dawn it was shining in the southeast sky. now, i have just about the dumbest little camera known to humankind and it never ever takes the dots of light that i’m hoping it will capture. but today, miraculously, it did. well, if you get out your magnifying glass, you’ll see it did. a small wonder like that is enough to start my day with a skip to the heart. so i hope it’s a contagious skip, and you too encounter a star-stitch of wonder today. 

so, what’s your blessing for the new beginning?

morning house

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