pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: November, 2007

a lesson learned

oh, he’s figured it out. he’s strapped on the skates, found his place on the ice, cut a few circles. sure, he wobbles a bit, every once in a while, but then he steadies himself. stands up tall. takes a breath, keeps gliding. around and around, he goes.
all of a sudden, like all the molecules just zapped into a line, one day he climbed on the couch with a very fat book, a book about something he loves dearly and deeply of late–a book about football, for crying out loud–and he started to plow.
one foot in front of the other, not so teetering. sound upon sound, syllable upon syllable.
but wait, this isn’t about a boy learning to read. this is about a mama learning to trust. learning to keep hold of faith. a mama believing, remembering, chill winds do pass. do blow through the trees. rustle the leaves. but then, calm comes.
the whistling through cracks in the windows, it stops.
all is well again.
not so many months ago i was worried. i saw a boy and a book and they were not getting along. the words on the page were scattered, like so many leaves on the lawn in november. they didn’t make sense. didn’t line up. the poor child was drowning, and i knew it. his teacher just told us, week before last, that many a day he was thisclose to tears. just barely keeping afloat.
she hadn’t told us till now, she said in a way that might be due to the fact that she herself is a mother, because it would have been rather too painful. devastating, was the word that she used. and i gulped when i heard it, even after the fact.
but back when it was, i didn’t need to be told. i knew. and i worried. and i leapt ahead in the story. looked back, too, tried to think what i might have done to lock up his brain. looked down the road, saw a kid hobbling. saw a kid who might stay behind. might never catch up. i pictured it all.
but i forgot to hold onto the one thing that’s certain to save me, every time: faith.
and i don’t mean faith as in the core of religion. i mean faith in the ebb and the flow of plain living. faith in the power of time to untangle the knots. faith that the wrinkles, the ones that matter at least, stand a rather good chance of unwrinkling. or at least being smoothed by the ticking of time.
but i’d dropped hold of that knowing. i succumbed to the worry that knows me too well.
how many times, i wonder, do i have to ride on those tracks? think, oh my God, we are going to crash. close my eyes. picture the scene. picture the carnage, the blood and the spill.
how many times do i have to go off the cliff, over the edge, worry and worry and worry some more?
think: we are so doomed.
before, suddenly, out of the blue, the calm comes. the worry is ended. fog lifts. problem resolved.
seems to me parenthood–or simply being one who keeps track of the flowing of time, the turning of pages as story grabs hold of your throat, suspends all else, as you wait for the part where resolution undoes the knots–seems to me it’s a lifelong curriculum in practicing faith.
the compendium of worries will push you over the edge, early on, if you let it.
in my own personal cliff-dangling, there have been these now-laughable crises: the ultrasound that convinced me my baby did not have a brain (quick weekend call to a radiologist friend took care of that one), the fear that the lack of enough fat in my prenatal diet might have created a rare and unprecedented vitamin K deficiency (couldn’t even find a name for it, but i pieced together my theory through some rather intense reading, and that was back in the day before google could ride to the rescue).
you get the point.
but it didn’t stop with the birthing. oh, no.
mind if i tick off another? then i promise, i’ll stop.
whenever i strapped on the snugli, that soft-cloth contraption that allows you to basically wear your new baby, i was certain i’d fall down the stairs, or, worse, go splat on the curb of the sidewalk. either way, the baby hit first. and so would his soft little head.
sometimes i lurched, grabbed for the rail, as if the tumbling had already started.
but somehow, it didn’t keep me from walking. didn’t convince me to take to a chair and wait for the poor child to grow.
no, despite the rather overwhelming collection of bizarre brain waves that slither and slosh through my head, i am armed with a good dose of invincible faith in the pure act of living.
i keep breathing. keep lifting one foot, putting it down in front of the other.
of course, some days my knuckles are white. some days my belly is flopping. some days the stuff in my head is enough to stop all the presses, make it onto CNN’s five minutes of news you should know.
but then i take the next breath. then i take one step at a time. i wrestle my fears to the ground.
or, back to the case of the boy up above, the boy who was lost in a forest of letters and sounds, i simply pick up a book and a word ring–that is the teacher’s invention of every word a first grader should know, printed on cards, cut out, and slipped on a ring i could recite in impeccable order for all the times that i’ve flipped it of late, all the times i’ve sat at the table, on the edge of the bed, or the side of the tub, practicing, practicing, making the words make some sense.
and then i get back to the business of believing. it’s a lesson i’ve learned again and again. there are storms and they’ll pass, or they won’t. and worrying won’t dull the harsh winds.
a baby will crawl. a baby will walk. a pencil, some day, will be used to make letters, and not just to scribble what looks like a wasps’ nest. 2 + 2 will = 4. even the word lackadaisical will spill from a little boy’s lips. (i heard it this week.)
so why is it then, that in the moment of pure and utter suspense, i, like others i know, turn not to trust but to worry.
when will the switch go on in our own little heads, remind us again and again, to take a deep breath and believe.
life is, at its highest frequencies, crisis and crisis resolving. there is bad news. followed by news of cleaning up messes. putting out fires. getting back to the business of living.
look to the ocean for clues. waves come and they come and they come. look to sky. storm turns to rainbow. night to day. winter to spring.
all around, it appears, the world is trying to teach us, to teach me, at least: that that ices your belly, that that keeps you awake, it will, most of the time, move along. it will pass.
children will read. friends will be found. the girl who is being rather a drama queen, will give way to the one who is blushing, who is sending a message, in capital letters, that maybe she thinks your firstborn is smart. and rather delightfully funny.
the long faces there at the table, will erupt once again in pure laughter. the saturday nights won’t be empty forever.
it’s an act of pure faith, yes indeed. but sometimes it takes rote recitation: i believe, i believe, i believe.
and next time you catch me twitching and writhing in worry, just tap me soft on the shoulder. remind me the words of my father: this too shall pass.
oh, and remind me to breathe while you’re at it.
it’s hard to believe if you’re blue in the face. believe me.

all right, wise people, what worries have you put to rest in your time on this planet? maybe you’re not so inclined to worry at all. maybe you’re blessed with that worry-free gene. i’m not. and my life, it seems, is an exercise in learning to tuck it off in a corner. to keep it contained in a rather small box, if it refuses to leave altogether. how have you learned when to fret and when to let go? or if you’re the worry-free sort, would you mind spilling your secret?

totally changing the subject, i need to take a moment here to honor a friend who is making a rather brave move. she is a friend who oozes creativity and wisdom. her name is sandra, and i have spoken before of her here. i call her the midwife of pull up a chair. she is, as of today, launching a life of self-sustained creativity. she has been a shopkeeper for a very long time, finding one-of-a-kind, last-forever toys and books, and, recently, scandinavian marvels. now she will be making her own beautiful things, selling them from her etsy shop. she has a beautiful blog, called bricolagelife. bricolage means to make from what you have. my friend sandra makes beauty wherever she goes. keep an eye on her shop. you will find beautiful things there. i send you off, sweet sandra, onto your voyage with the brightest of lights in the window. and i thank you for all that you are.

november sky

november sky

the sky wraps me, it signals me, it tells me many things. in ways that never end, it is God’s billboard.

it holds up wonder. hints at danger ’round the bend. whispers: season’s changing, sun is moving on, world turns. shadow’s on its way.

it talks not just to me, it talks to many, many others.

all around, i see the others paying attention. i pay attention, too.

i find myself looking out of windows. looking up. i’m hiking here and there and everywhere, like a lady starved, trying to fill her belly. only what i’m hungry for is sky.

there is something particular about november sky that calls me much more often, much more insistently, than the summer months, or even spring.

november sky is haunting, is gray, is roiling when the winds whip, making froth of clouds. oh, dear Lord, there’s frappuccino up above. we cannot escape.

november sky is vast, is tinted with a wash of winter blue. there is more to see, because less is in the way. just the bare-boned architecture of the trees, stark, sharp against the canvas of the sky. sticks poking into clouds, or so it looks from far away, daring sky to burst.

the disrobing’s over now. it’s limb and bough and twisted trunk. a tree stands alone, telling its solitary story. no encumbrances, no leaves, no frills. just the bending, arching, reaching limbs, and whatever’s fallen too.

we see it all now. we teeter here on the precipice between the autumn and the winter. not yet snow sky, but i get the sense it’s coming any day.

i could watch all day. watch the birds watch the sky. watch the squirrels too. how they know which days to scurry to the feeder, gorge on seed, before the weather does what sky is saying.

the gray sky for me is one big knitted afghan. i draw it ‘round my shoulders. hunker down beneath november sky.

it is signal, mostly, that it’s time for one and all to go deep, pull in, be ready for the cold winds that will come. bulbs are buried. painted turtles sleep along the bank of the lagoon. even little sparrows, long past nesting, have been collecting bits of cloth, flitting off to somewhere where i think they’ve knitted their own afghan for the winter.

i too go deeper in these days. pull in. take my cues from sky. i, too, ready for the winter. put the gardens all to bed. tuck in plants in blankets made of leaves i didn’t rake. i haul out the soup pot. simmer beans and bones, whatever takes the long slow flame, offers up its essence over time, over hours that aren’t hurried. not at all.

but i go deep in other ways.

this is the season, starting now, for introversion. funny, then–odd, even–that it’s the season that the world claims for merriment. hmm. so maybe that’s why, sometimes, for some of us, it’s like climbing through molasses to go out and join the crowds.

maybe if we listened to the sky, we’d be more in keeping with the rhythms deep within.

i believe in seasons. and not because i’m the daughter of ecclesiastises. or the long-lost fourth of peter, paul and mary.

no, not that at all. i believe in seasons because i believe that Wisdom understood the ebb, the flow, the time to plant, the time to harvest under heaven.

and november sky, maybe more than any other sky, tells me things in notes i cannot, do not want, to miss.

wrap up. take shelter. kindle lights in every window. brace for storms to come. feed yourself deeply.

this time, these days, are ripe for inner harvest. while the orchards all are sleeping, while the fields have gone to fallow, sift through the soils of your soul, i hear the sky say.

root around inside. see what’s ripe for picking now. take in wisdom. curl up and take it from the printed page. or lace up your boots, and listen to the forest. or the waves that won’t be stopped for cold. or the grasses of the meadow that can’t help but rustle to the song of winter’s-coming wind.

the grayer that the sky gets, the more i feel my heart beat. it is november, most of all, november almost gone, that stirs me, like a spoon inside the pot, for the broth i’ll sip for months to come.

the reverie of november, november now slipping in its final hours. do you find your soul stirred too, like the jostling building clouds that crowd the sky? do you find this the start of your deepest months? what of the party schedule that demands a mood that might not be in keeping with the call of sky to hunker down? or is it that the dark of deepest winter demands we kindle flame? what of the flame we carry deep within? what if it’s the one we tend in the weeks to come?

when daddy does dinner

maybe it’s the cardboard box that serves as a trough. maybe it’s the papery napkins that dissolve into bits when you rub and you rub your greasy little mitts. hmm, maybe it’s simply the grease.
oh, excuse me, you caught me sitting here, wondering, what might it be that makes daddy dinners such a hit when mine are so, well, same, old and tired?
i do sprinkle with spices, really i do. but the little one, of course, would never know that, since he puts not a thing to his lips that’s not passed the committee.
the committee? you ask. oh, yes, that would be the international gathering of gustatory approval that meets under his sheets up there in the dark. takes on, at great length apparently, the virtues of, say, red sauce v. no sauce. and, dang, not once has the red stuff made it out of committee. the boy, er, the committee, distinctly has taste that tends toward the blanco.
their motto: if it ain’t white, don’t eat it.
which might in fact be part of the secret to last night’s daddy-brings-circus-to-dinner. that child inhaled those white-potato fries, yes, he did. and the bits of the chicken that were at least tending toward beige.
do not think that his fork moved anywhere near the RED beans and rice. nor the RED sauce that some at the table licked off their fingers. after dunking their chicken and all of their fries. and kept right on lickin’. didn’t mind one bit dangling the little sauce bucket off the ends of their tongues, as they proceeded to extract every last bit of circusy essence.
for the record, let me just mention: not in a whole year of chopping and dicing, and quickly defrosting, not in a whole year of chicken a la anything, have i noticed one of my dinners inspiring the wearing of sauce bucket at the tip of a tongue. mais non.
best i got was: good dinner, mom.
dang. so what is it with mr. i’ll-do-dinner-honey?
mister come-to-the-rescue sashays in two nights in a row, and two nights, bing bing bing, lights flash, bells ring, it’s a hit. it’s a hit. the children are eating.
so it goes in the meat-and-potatoes dept.
there’s moi–and maybe there’s you–going the distance. night after night, considering greens. trying out little grains that trace back to the aztecs, pack a powerful punch in the protein department. feeling all smug when i finally figure out how to plug in the crockpot.
and i get the same old, same old: gee mom, thanks. and the little one is squirming off of his chair. pretending he’s dropped all sorts of things (mostly his broccoli) under the table. and not a whole lot of tongues are licking the plate. or even a fork. and i wouldn’t know from a sauce bucket, so that’s hardly an option.
but it’s what we do. we are, for the most part, the dinner committee. we are the ones who, for whatever alignment of planets, come up with the chicken variations. we are sensible. we are dependable (mostly. as long as you don’t suspend us for once again burning the broccoli). we are there at the stove night after night.
and then there’s what i would label the big-daddy-o factor.
mister fun does it again: steaks on the grill. steaks so big he needed a wheelbarrow. chicken from a joint that kindly throws slices of white bread down at the pit of the red-checkered box that makes like a trough (ol’ slice soaks up the grease, we decided, not quite sure what to make of the wonder buried there under the mountain o’ fries).
maybe it’s only at our house where the division of labor is so, um, divided. and where the division of comic relief so, um, noticeable.
it is all, for the most part, the beauty of family, the original pastiche of so many roles. from adam, with his disinclination toward apples, and eve, with her insistence on trying, the family, it seems works at its semi-functional best when everyone comes to the table with, well, particular strengths and, yes, remarkable softspots.
it’s all of one tree, the apple with gleam hangs beside apple with bumblebee bruises. until you look at the tree from some other angle, and suddenly it’s all in reverse.
as long as the orchard is sweet, as long as the branches are dripping, it’s just the yin and the yang of the harvest. it’s jack sprat and his missus. it’s bo peep and her sheeps.
but still, sometimes i think, sometimes i can’t help but wonder: should i rattle the tree just a bit?
maybe i oughta shake up the table. show up with grand paper bags spilling with grease. try joints that toss in gallons of cheap paper napkins.
but naaahhh, in the end there’s this one little matter: what would come of the quinoa that lingers there on the shelf in the pantry?
i dare not risk stirring the wrath of the aztec spirits who depend on me to keep them in business.

we don’t often look at the world through a distinct gender split around here. but has anyone noticed the frivolity, the joie de something that comes with the Y chromosome? what might we learn from throwing a little what-the-heck into the running of our sweet little lives? i am thinking there are distinct advantages to having a fun committee off in the wings. and i only wish mine took days off from work a little more often. trust me, the last two days were spillover from the days he didn’t take off–when he was slotted to–the week of thanksgiving. and, boy, was it nice to launch back into the after-turkeyday crunch with one of us still on vacation mode. what madcap ideas have you tried of late to shake things up at the dinner table?

straight from the heart

i’m not sure when i realized, but somewhere along the line, i figured out that i breathed not with my lungs, but with my heart. and in turn, with the tips of my fingers. these days, pushing little blocks on a keyboard. once, pushing a pen, or, long long ago, a pencil.
i write to breathe, to untangle my heart. i write with the undying belief that we all are a story, have a story to tell. and if we say what dwells in our hearts, in our breathing places, well, then, maybe we’re not so alone anymore. i am, more than anything, seeking communion. but not in a loud, boisterous, come-to-my-party, sort of a way.
far more quietly. far more full of the truth. far more kitchen-table.
i say, sometimes when i write, shhh. listen in here. this is the truth, the whole truth. this is the shadow and this is the light.
i think sometimes, for some people, it’s probably too much. oh my gosh, she wrote that, they might maybe say. i cannot believe that she said that, said it out loud, spelled it out.
i am not–despite what i wish with all of my heart–emily or toni or one of the annies (there are two i adore), or any one of the writers whose work breathes to me like oxygen itself.
i am just a girl who was born to put words in places all over, to lay them like stones that cross over a brook. they guide me. they give me wings.
i can’t really dance. and i know i can’t sing. but i’ve got the heart and the soul to wish very much i could do either or both.
instead, i write.
i feel like the wind propels me sometimes. i hear something, feel something, see something, and i can’t wholly know it, till i’ve wrapped it in words, till i’ve put it on paper.
for nearly a year now, i’ve risen each morning before all the birds. i’ve crept into a room in the dark with a very big window. i keep watch here. watch the light of the day spill ever so slowly. i listen for birdsong. i listen for footsteps above.
i putter, often, before i sit down to write. i tidy the kitchen, put out seed for the birds. i make the coffee, dump the oatmeal into the pot. sometimes i forget that it’s gurgling away. oops. i’ve cleaned a few bottoms of pots this past year.
but once i come here to the place where the words come, i just sometimes forget. i get lost finding my way here.
some days, it feels like standing naked in front of my window. some days i wince, think, i said too much. but i keep writing anyway.
i have only one editor here, and its name is the truth. that would be, by the way, a capital T. the rare one.
i believe in the truth and the telling of stories because i think for the most part too few are listening through all of the noise. no one is hearing the shadows and soft spots. no one gives voice to the inklings, the thoughts that whisper and scurry like so many clouds on a blustery day.
the point here is to net them. to catch all those thoughts before they float off in the distance. to catch them like great-winged fritillaries, to hold them up to the light, to take in their beauty, decide if maybe they’re thoughts we want to hold onto, or merely let go.
the point here is to say out loud, this matters to me. this way of making a home, or feeding my children. this way of noticing the thumbprint of the most holy divine. this way of peeling open my heart, letting in the cool waters that quench it. if i’ve not said it, then you can’t–or might not–respond. you can’t shake your head, add to the voices, say, oh i think so too. or, i think not.
there are parts of all of us–certainly of me–that i’ve begun to understand as i lay down the words. like bricks in a wall, i build who i am, what i believe, one truth at a time.
this has been, all of it, an exercise in writing straight from the heart. it has been a practice of saying it out loud. sifting through the everyday, seeking the sacred. finding it. holding it up. finding souls who see the same glimmer. who notice its beauty. who come back again.
joining hearts.
it is how i’ve been all my life, and will, i’m certain, continue to be. from when i was little, i would sit in my room. make sense through the end of a pencil. i would write very long letters and stuff them under the door. leave them there on the pillow. put them in places where they could not be missed.
it is, all these years later, the only way i know how to breathe. it is, as well, how i pray.
for a very long time now, i’ve sat down to write as if in the cell of a monk. it’s my before-writing habit. most writers have one.
as if clearing the throat, before tapping the fingers, some writers walk. others take showers. some stare out a window. i bow my head, whisper a prayer. i ask to channel a thought, tell a story, straight from the heavens to my head to my heart and on through my fingers.
dear God, i’m here as your pencil.
Lord, make me an instrument of your truth, is the prayer that i pray. and let me write it, i ask, in the holiest voice that i know, the one that comes straight from the heart.

irony abounds. as i was pounding this out, this snippet of truth, the computer somehow went black. i lost whole passages. zip. zap. vanished. i quivered for a while there, racked my brain. now slightly recovered–only slightly–i see the humor in that unfortunate moment. so much for unedited truth telling…..
some of you, i know, are writers. some of you prefer only to read. but i’m thinking that if you come here at all, you value the telling of truth, straight from the heart. where do you find the wind for your wings? do you dance, do you sing, do you paint, do you sculpt? do you find it out in the woods, or on the walls of museums? do you find it deep in a book, or in the company of a very close friend? where do you make out the whispers of the most holy divine? do you like me find truth in the words you put on a page?

someone to walk with

it took eight years. it took eight years of wanting, and wishing, and prayers on my knees. it took burying an unborn babe. and shots and more shots in my belly. it took, finally, making peace with the way that it was.
“we’re a tiny family, but we’re a wonderful tiny family,” the wise man i love finally said. he said it when it came time to quit. time to quit trying. time to quit making all kinds of bargains with those whom you bargain with when there’s one thing in the world that you want but you can’t make it happen. time to quit when my much rattled body nearly completely could not go on.
so peace we made.
the very last time it didn’t work, the very last time the doctor’s receptionist called, said matter-of-factly, you’re not pregnant, the numbers are bad, i cried and i cried. i rode my bike down to the lake, i rode and i cried.
i let go of dreams. i let go of the gaggle of children i’d always seen in my head. the ones i’d make tall stacks of flapjacks. the ones who’d be nestled all snug in their beds, the ones i would kiss forehead to forehead like back on the waltons. the ones who’d require milk by the gallons. three times a week.
i gave it all up and relished completely my one and my only. i marveled that given the odds stacked against me, we’d gotten him, so very easily.
but for years, it was my own private aching. when i saw two kids in a line at the movies, two kids who looked like they fell from the same genes, maybe the same whorl in their hair, or freckles spilled ’cross their nose. when i watched a big brother reach out a hand to a baby sister, pull her out of a sandbox where she was stuck.
when my own brother sat with me at the side of my mother, waking up from a surgery, still tethered in tubes, it wrenched me.
wrenched me and my heart in the same way i know it wrenched his.
he told me only once, but that was all i needed to hear. i was taking him out of the tub, wrapping him in a long white towel. he was three, maybe four.
“why can’t God hear,” he asked me, one of those questions children sling with no warning. we might have been talking about soap one minute and suddenly the channel had changed and now it was God of whom we were speaking.
what do you mean, i asked back, not sure quite what woods we were tiptoeing into.
“well, i keep asking him for a brother or sister, but God isn’t listening. i think maybe God can’t hear.”
and so i wrapped him tighter than ever that night. i wiped my tears with that towel. but all the tears, and all the unanswered questions got us no closer to a brother or sister for that sweet blessed all-alone boy.
then, one night i had a dream. a dream that a woman in a dark blue sweater looked at me and said, “you are pregnant.” and i was. at 43, almost 44. just about now, only seven years ago.
it turned out to be true. it turned out, despite the odds, despite the fact that every doctor who’d looked at me, in me, through me, turned out to be wrong.
God musta been listening after all.
we used to like to tell the story of the day we told the one and only. how we sat down to lunch, how the father there at the table said, most fatherly, “we have something important to tell you,” and then i leapt in and blurted it out, not at all restrained, or guarded, or considering the chance that this wouldn’t be. “we’re having a baby,” i said, already crying. and how he, then seven and a half, then used to a table with only three chairs, how he slapped himself upside the head, said, “this is a dream. i must be dreaming.”
only soon, my belly started to swell. and then there was kicking. and then one night in the shaft of a light, that baby came. his big brother was right there, watching. taking it in, every last drop.
and for the whole first year, every time i looked at that baby, i couldn’t not think of the fact, feel the chill down my spine, that sometimes dreams really do come true.
and it all came rushing back to me, as often it does, when i was walking in the woods the other day, and i looked up, and there were two boys, entwined. the way i always dreamed it would be. only better.
because i hear the things the big one teaches the little one. and i saw the way the little one couldn’t breathe, couldn’t bear it, when his big brother was hurt, so very hurt, the day he fell off his bike and moaned and asked if maybe he was going to die.
because i still don’t make flapjacks for dozens. but i do make them for two. and i do listen to the little one practice subtraction, asking when the big one is 70, how old will he be? and i know when i help him figure it out, all the take-away-8s, that way way down the bend, when i’m gone most likely, i will still have two boys who still have each other.
and long long ago, when i was aching but nobody knew it, that was the one unanswered prayer i could not put to rest.
but, thing is, God listened. God, after all, has very big ears.
just like both of my boys, matter of fact. i think maybe my boys spill from that very same gene pool. as a matter of fact, of that i am certain.
and i know that you know that’s not bragging. it’s just being in love. and that is a very fine thing for a mama. a mama of two, most especially.

tell me your sibling stories. i certainly spent eight years realizing the virtues of having only one child. i tried all those years to raise him in a virtual extended family. he had uncles who were really big brothers, still are. we had friends, some of whom were similarly singular, and we shared holidays and sunday dinners. had saturday sleepovers. tried as hard as we could to never allow him to think he was one and only in ways that might not be so good for a kid. but the times i catch the snippets of brotherly love, in the midst of brotherly squabbles, i melt. big time. tell me your tales of brotherly-sisterly being there for each other, in ways no one else could ever, would ever, understand….

speaking of brotherly, sisterly love, i tell you proud like a sister, that one of the chair puller-uppers, one you know and love for her wisdom and poetry as jcv, well, she is a writer who until yesterday had not seen her name in a newspaper. yesterday that all changed. in a very big way. she wrote a magnificent story that ran smack dab all over the perspective section of the chicago tribune. we like to think of it as the thinkingest section of the paper. and our very own jcv, and her beautiful beautiful story of her little girl and her “hearing maids,” made everyone think. about the power of hearing. about a world with no sound. about insurance companies who won’t pay for hearing aids for a child. i would love you to read it, if you’ve not had a chance. here it is, click to this link.

and happy week after turkeys.

far from the madding crowd


oh, geez. i forgot to set the alarm. really, i can think of nothing more, er, satisfying, more triumphant, ahem, than being the very first one in the door at the mall, the lead doler of dollars, as the mad crush of insanity, the bloated excess that parades as december, gets a real-deal headstart and a beat-the-rooster leap on the action.

to think i slept right through the bell. rolled over, kept dreaming some dream of maybe what christmas could be.
how sad that some poor soul, or some poor machine, had to be cranked, and instructed, to slap such a sticker on the very front page of the news.

on the paper that landed at my house, the news of the early-bird sale beat out some underneath story of migrants and money, and the sad sorry fact that western union is, for the poor, becoming the bank of the world. but with a price. and a steep one.

which, pretty much, i would say, is the point of the wee-hour sale. it’s a deal, but it comes with a rather high price.
it suggests–or maybe it confirms in bold letters–the fact that we’ve all lost our minds here. or is it our souls?

i don’t want to sound like the excess of turkey and pie turned me into some sort of a crank. but i don’t think it right to pretend that really it’s just how it is: we spend and we spend. we run and we pant. we collapse when we get to the end of december.

what if we took back the month? what if, starting today, we took back the day?

what if today, instead of the cash register chorus, we took to the sounds of the woods? what if we crunched leaves under our soles? what if we caught the sunbeams playing through the now-naked limbs?

what if we watched a bird alight on a pine bough, fluff its feathers to keep out the chill?

what if we made of today a day fitting for thanks that could not be stuffed in yesterday’s golden-breast bird?

what if, one by one, we do what we can to reverse the flow of this river? what if we choose not to spend a whole dime, not on the madness at least? only on milk or on eggs.

what if, in a show of solidarity with the month that’s been twisted and torqued, we take today slow and full of grace?

at our house, it’s a hike in the woods. we’ve lined up our boots by the door. the man who i love insisted. we are steering as from the mall as we can. sometimes, it seems, you need to take a day by the neck, and tell it how to behave.

and today is the start of the end of the madness. maybe slowly, surely, we can build a sort of momentum.
maybe we can build a snowball of little ideas. maybe we can, one day at a time, stitch moments of grace into the hours. hold up a hand to at least some of the that’s-just-how-it’s-done. except when it’s not.

except when maybe shopping is not synonymous with the season. except when maybe one gift and maybe a stocking is all that we give to our children. except when we stop for a moment and say, hmm, do i really need a little wrapped box, or an envelope stuffed with some bills, to say thank you to all of the folk who haul away trash and drop off the mail, and drive all the buses and cook the school lunches?

what if we made sure to say thank you, deep, look-in-the-eye thank yous, and not just when the calendar said it was time to?

maybe it’s not so much what we don’t do. maybe it’s more what we do do.

maybe it’s lighting our way through the darkness. maybe it’s making a room in the inn of our hearts. maybe it’s getting up just a little bit earlier, for the sole purpose of sitting in quiet. maybe it’s practicing how to say no. maybe it’s claiming saturday afternoon as time for a walk in the woods. maybe it’s reading a story a night. maybe it’s dinner with candlelight only.

and maybe it starts with today, a day now reserved for no commerce. a day to be quiet all day. a day to linger at the table. eat leftovers, for crying out loud.

a day to intentionally remove yourself from the ways of the world that slaps early-bird stickers on top of the news.

a day to say, no i will not leap from my bed at ungodly hours, not to drive to the mall, not to sate a hunger that cannot be filled by after-turkey-day sales.

a day to sift through the sacred hours and drink in the start of a season that, if we so choose, can come at us softly, purely, without all the noise that we’ve gotten too used to.

hmm. what ideas might you birth in a season of trying to be hushed? what might we do here to try to take back the month of december? it’s wobbly, and a bit odd, to try to reverse the flow of a river, but if we don’t fumble we’re stuck with the world as it is….anyone with a sure steady hand here?

blessed be

blessed be the words that spill, that carry us from broth that’s God’s, to bowl that’s yours, that you sip. and sometimes, without a napkin, you might shlurp.
blessed be the year that was, the time that is now, this breath, and the next, and the next.
blessed be hearts that beat as one, and those that beat to a rhythm only they can count.
blessed be this table, where we gather, where we lay down our fears, the aches of our heart, our joys, our deep delight. did i mention our worries? blessed be the whole darn sloppy mess.
blessed be the moon. oh, the moon, the moon.
blessed be the dawn, the lifting of the veil of night, the pulling back of blackness, revealing eyes of day.
blessed be the rustlings, maybe starting now, in kitchens everywhere, as cooks begin to stir through roadmaps, going back in time. taking stops along the way at hearts no longer here, at hearts too far away, to generations and countrysides and newborn cities of long, so long, ago.
blessed be the pomegranate and the pumpkin.
blessed be the turkey cookie with the raisin eye.
blessed be the lumps that will not leave the gravy.
blessed be the little children nestled in their beds. blessed be their cheeks all pink from rubbing on the sheets. blessed be their quietude in dreams, and their animation in the moment of their waking.
blessed be the bones of mine, and maybe yours as well, that creak and whine on rising from the bed.
blessed be the spinning wheel of seasons, the chance to start again. the resurrection cycle. from naked limb of winter, stark against the sky, to filigree of spring, flamboyant summer green, and then, at last, the bold disrobing of the autumn, now settling starkly once again.
blessed be grace, seed child of the divine, the wind-borne fertile wisp we sow, searching every day for here and there to plant it, to await the bumper crop of something far beyond us.
blessed be the rising and the setting of the sun, the sky an endless doodle pad for dabbing color, drawing pink and orange in streaks. blessed be God’s water color.
blessed be papa bird, and mama and the babies, too.
blessed be the cat.
blessed be the clouds that scuttle by, or come like circus critters, a carousel in puffs and odd-shaped taffy pulls. do you see the tail, the trunk, the camel’s hump?
blessed be the pit-a-pat of rain.
blessed be the boy who snuggles close, who whispers, “can we cuddle? like in the little days, when i couldn’t say a word?” and then, before he dozes off, he softly tells you, “you smell like popcorn.”
blessed be anywhere and everywhere and places in between.
blessed be the day, the hours when the busy work unfolds. and the night, when soul is center stage.
blessed be the farmer. and the farmer’s hands, his breath, her back, and the worries that she bears.
blessed be the light and song of those no longer here. blessed be the ache inside our hearts as we feel them wholly missing. blessed be the squirming as we try to find a way to breathe that doesn’t hurt so much in the bald-faced truth of their absence.
blessed be the broken places deep inside, and blessed be the healing.
blessed be the child who looks you in the eye, and tells you he finds God not in religion A or B, but somewhere wholly all his own, somewhere very much evolving.
blessed be the mothers and the fathers who take it all in stride.
blessed be all the ones who never leave our side. who take the outbursts and the murmurs, who weather all the many moods.
blessed be the friends who hold up our wobbly hearts.
blessed be the blessings that really never end.
blessed be you.
and blessed be this day of deeply saying thank you.

carry on. this blessing is communal. it is in the power of our many voices that we might make a noise that cannot be unheard. and i for one am listening….

oh, about the photo up above. that’s my little one, just the other night. he was making a story, illustrated, of how when you’re in love, you make kissy faces. note the sun in shades. and blessed be that child. and the stories that he spins. blessed be the hand that’s learned to move a pencil. and the heart that takes it off the page. it seemed to me quite fitting for a blessed be this day…..

the first thanksgiving*

i know, i know, you’re thinkin, geez, lady, you jumped the gun. it’s not till tomorrow, sweetheart.
either that, or you’re slappin’ yourself upside the brow, groaning. maybe whispering there to your neighbor, “psst. this chick is 386 years behind the times. as every kindergartner knows, ol’ bill bradford called for turkeys back in 1621.”
ah ha, fooled ya then. cuz i am right, believe you me. i know of which i speak. this is my first thanksgiving, people. not the first of which i partake, of course, but the first of which is mine to burn, to under-do, to go mushy there in the brussels sprouts department. or even to, voila, get it relatively right.
because i took an oath of honesty when installed here at the keyboard, and because full disclosure comes with the job i do by day, i must tell the truth, the whole truth. i must explain why the little shining star up there above, indicating a writer’s “ahem,” a little clearing of the throat, on the matter.
fact is, i have a dangling participle on this feast of mine. there is a clause of sorts. a footnote, if you will. basically, a true disclaimer. i cannot claim the whole shebang.
the starring turkey will not be mine. mine’s the backup breast, the just-in-case, though it will be free-range and organic, for those of you inclined that way. in case you’re stopping by, or coming by ’round midnight to pick the bones and nibble pumpkin pie.
yup. the big bird sticks with mama. my mama, i mean. she was willing to surrender the staging site, but not the bird and not the stuffing. she wants her house to be perfumed of the great november fowl.
i get mine redolent with eau de sprouts, and eau de parsnip. hmm. wonder who’ll get out of bed tomorrow. it might be only me at the feast of deep thanksgiving.
mais non. my table will be full. even if they come with noseplugs.
perhaps i should explain. what’s going on here is what happens in the best of families: the boys moved on. there’s no one here, of the clan we call our own, ’cept me and mama now.
she and i are holding down the city by the lake–okay, so toledo, too, is a city by the lake, but yours is dirty, little brother, or at least it was, it caught on fire, and ours is sort of clean, or at least pretending to be so. if i must, i’ll compromise, let’s say, she and i are holding down the stomping ground of al capone, a claim with universal translation, as folks around the world hold up their thumb and pointer finger, as if a g-u-n, and say, in any language, “bang bang,” when they mean chicago.
ah, yes, from here on in, me and mama dearest are taking turns on holidays. we split the wishbone of the bird to see who got which one, and i am, this year at least, the poster child for the feast of many gobbles.
for a girl who’s never done this, i am feeling a little challenged by the notion of 14 coming to my door, and coming rather hungry.
how, you ask, do you get to be half a century, here in the united states, and still claim turkey virginity?
the answer, friends, goes back to mama. and before that my grandma dear. i come from a long line of turkey cookers. and both have ruled the second-to-last thursdays in november, as long as i’ve been breathing.
ah, but this year, all has changed. the turkey wing, if not the leg, is passed to me.
wisely, we are doing this in stages. i will take beginner steps, try not to kill the breast. meanwhile, i’ve got brothers far away, who’ve been flinging stellar brining formulas and full-blown saline theories all around the country. one in maine started days ago, i think. the one in old ohio might be smoking his, even as i type, in authentic smokehouse.
me, the only girl in the bunch, i’m more concerned with setting tables. and making something fine of all those sprouts and all those parsnips.
blessedly, for it is the feast of many blessings, i’ll have help. someone’s bringing pies. someone else is bringing mashed potatoes. that leaves me decidedly underwhelmed. it leaves me basically to not mess up the forks and knives.
but still, just because i think i should, i’ll spend the day today clanging pots and pans. it is, i’ve heard, part of the equation. i’ll muss my hair to look the part, of the harried hostess. perhaps i’ll spritz a little perspiration on my brow.
at the moment my main concern is the fridge that will not close. i’ve taken to pretending i’m a pilgrim, and stuffed half the goods out in what i’m calling the coldhouse (otherwise known as the garage.) long as the critters don’t break the seals, or bite the clementines, i’ll be struttin’ pretty.
my mate, the one who took the whole day off, perhaps in sympathy, or just to watch me clang around, just mentioned that perhaps we want to “neaten up.” his shorthand for holy heck, it’s a mess in here.
so regardless of my turkey duties, i’ll be mighty of the mainstream. like cooks from coast to coast, i’ll be spinning plates and tossing forks. watch out for carrot peels. and beware of over-simmered pears.
i wish you all the best of luck, as we plug our noses all together now, inch to the edge of the flapping board and dive in deep where the waters of the pilgrim feast dare to pull us under.
even if some of us are wholly wimps, and not yet taking on the big bird. but merely clinging to a starter ring of bits of unassuming white meat.

people, what’s your game plan, if you’ve got a minute here to pound out the keys? do you have a tale to tell of your maiden turkey voyage? and what of brussels sprouts? and what about the brining, boys? forgive me, while i stumble through turkey lite, a class for poultry punks….

early bird

i am pulled into the darkness like a leaf in a river, tossing, drifting, not able to stop, really, the ride down the current.
i rise, though, tear off the sheets, kick out my legs, grope, nowadays wince at the argumentation coming up from the soles of my feet, the soles that don’t seem to agree with the notion of carrying the weight that descends as soon as i’m upright, moving forward, because i love nothing so much as the morning.
and not just any old slice of the morn. oh no, i mean the start of it, before the beginning, in fact. the dawn, by definition. the gauze-edged interlude between the depth of the night and the harsh of the day.
the re-awakening, once again, of the sky, and the trees, and the world all around. the slow peeling back of the layers of black, the reveal once again, of the seeping-in light.
i am, for the start of my vigil, mostly alone. house after house, out the window, is dark, is asleep. the moon, depending on the day of the month, and the depth of its shadow, is casting a glow, or is not.
but round about 6, round about the hour when the fingers of light are reaching, are stretching, beyond the horizon, papa comes.
papa is my cardinal, my red-feathered companion who makes do for the lack of a rooster.
he comes first to the highest of limbs. he surveys. he chirps in a series of short little bursts. that’s my cue to dig into the seed bin, to scoop up the sunflower, to march out to the place where the light is spilling, is washing, is dousing the start of the day.
“g’morning,” i call, and he does answer back.
since no one’s around, i can’t prove that he does. and you’re welcome to spy, or you can simply believe me, take my word, we converse, dear papa and i.
i dump his gruel for the morning, he offers his thanks by flapping right down. it’s gotten so cozy here in the morning, he doesn’t wait any longer for my feet to shuffle away. he’s darting down before i am back in the house. if i stand very still, if i say not a word, he’ll get on with the business of breakfast and pay me no mind.
it is some something, i’d say, to have a friend who joins you for dawn, except for the days when the rain is descending in buckets.
it is especially something when that friend is a true early bird.
he’s there, as am i, a good chunk of an hour before the choristers, the brown-cloaked sparrows, arrive.
and it all makes me think, as i keep watch on the flocks, on the comings and goings of singular scarlet and long rows of brown upon brown, as i take in the chirp of the red bird and the chatter of sparrow, that this all reminds me, very much, of matins, the morning prayer, the vigil, kept through the centuries in so many abbeys.
as long as there has been a church, and before that borrowing from the synagogue of jerusalem, believe it or not, there has been a particular order of prayer at the dawn. there were readings from the books of law, the singing of psalms and various prayers. there was a cantor and there was a chorus.
in early christianity, the prayers went all night, peaking just before dawn. it was all part of the nightwatch of the guards and the soldiers, either due to the secrecy of the nascent church meetings, or the notion that the middle of night was the hour par excellence, the time most likely to find God available for listening.
according to the fourth-century apostolic constitution, it was the prayer to be offered at cock-crow. the word itself, matins, is from the latin, meaning it is of or belonging to the morning. in the traditional monastery, it was the prayer to end at the sunrise.
now i am no scholar on medieval church. but i do find sublime the notion of the cloister, the far-off godly place, where the peeling of a potato, or a rope sandal slapping the stone walkway of the candlelit corridors, might be the only sound save for the matins and the evensong, and the gathering winds of the monks and the nuns filed in rows for back-and-forth chanting.
nothing so shivers my spine as the prayersong of monks rising like a mist from the pews of some abbey.
i feel the pull of the cloak of the quiet that blankets the whole of you as you close off the world, let click the great wooden door of the monastery, tiptoe in where the hallways are hallowed and hushed.
how sacred then, to wake up here in the very house that by day is so very bustling, to step out into the fog or the dew of the night lifting to morning, and be greeted first by the red-robed cantor, and, soon after, the ranks of the speckle-frocked sparrows.
it is my own matins that i keep. i whisper my thanks for the night and the day, and the great flash of scarlet there at the altar of seed. i keep watch on the coming of light. i step inside so the brothers and sisters all will descend as one winged chorus, make alive the limbs and the branches with all of their chirped incantations.
it is holy chatter they make. and i get to partake. because i, like the cardinal, am the earliest bird.

i know i’m a nut for the morning. are you too? what hour do you find most holy? what do you do to carve out a space upholstered only in quiet? any medieval scholars who can shine more light on matins?

when the phone doesn’t ring

i have a hunch that i’m not alone. i have a hunch there are kitchens all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, where there are tears, and telephones that don’t ring quite so much.

where there are kids, good kids, great kids, kids without twitches and warts on their noses. kids with big bold ideas, and marvelous senses of humor. kids who are dear, kids so amazing you would like to bottle them, copy them, fill whole conveyor belts with them. kids you’re convinced could take over the world, right now, if handed the keys and told to start driving.

but for whatever reason, whatever twist of the popular culture, whatever roll of the die, the phone doesn’t ring. not nearly as often as anyone wishes, hopes, crosses their fingers. not nearly as often as some heart-aching mother gets down on her knees, begging for just a wee dose of mercy.

maybe you remember the feeling. maybe once there was a saturday and you called the gaggle of kids to whom you were most closely connected. and you asked if maybe they wanted to play, and you heard, in the background, the giggling. only the person there on the phone made like no one was around, and they weren’t so interested in playing with you.

so you hung up the phone, there in the upstairs where you’d gone so no one could hear you laying your shame on the line. and you stared out the window, into the yard, while you felt the sting singe you in a way that, even now, even 40 years later, you still remember. it still makes you twinge.

you wondered, through eyes burning with tears, what in the world it was that made you so very uncool.

and going to school the next monday was the hardest thing that you ever did. looking them in the eyes, knowing they spent the rest of their afternoon, maybe, laughing about how they dissed you.

and so it’s been off and on through all of the years, when someone you love, someone you birthed maybe, comes down in the kitchen and wonders out loud why they’re so all alone. you suffered through sixth grade where the stories were awful. where you heard of the girl who called your kid names. who shrieked as if he was poison when he happened to take the seat next to hers.

and now you field questions like these: “shouldn’t it be more like 50-50, you approach kids, they approach you? shouldn’t other kids sometimes wanna call me?”

or observations such as this: “i’m realizing there’s a distinction between kids respecting you, appreciating your ideas and the way you express them and liking your sense of humor, and thinking of you as someone they’d want to hang out with.”

you listen to a kid you love tell you he’s heard all about the parties and getting together that will go on throughout a long weekend. and then you watch him call one, then two, then three kids. and each time you hear him say, oh thank you, as he hangs up the phone, and reports that the kid who he called was already out, already hanging with friends.

and it rips you, really it does, from one end of your heart to the other. so you pile in the car, you go get a movie. you pop popcorn. you laugh. and you sit very close.

but it’s a saturday, for crying out loud. a saturday night. and the whole time you’re watching scene after scene you are wishing you could do something to fix all the pain. you wish you could call other mothers, or put up a billboard. hello, great kid sitting at home. any chance you’ve got one to spare? one who might care to spend time with just another great kid on the planet?

but you can’t do that, not really you can’t. so you sit and you suffer in a way that you haven’t since back on that saturday, long long ago. when it was you who was drowning in a bath of pure pain.

and now, 40 years later, you realize you’d take a double or triple or a quadruple hit, if only, maybe, please, that darn phone would ring.

someone, turn off the silencer.

there’s a great kid who i know, a marvelous kid who makes me laugh harder than anyone i know, and he’s sitting alone, just doing his homework. it’s a saturday, or a sunday, or a monday or tuesday, and there’s no one but us in this house, it sure seems, who realizes how sorry that is.

and i have a hunch, really i do, that he’s not alone. that in kitchens, and bedrooms, all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, there are kids, there are tears spilled by the ones with no one to play with.

it’s not so easy to say i know a kid who is quite rather lonely sometimes. not always, mind you. but often enough. too many saturday nights. do you know a kid like that? do you wish, sometimes, there was a worldwide registry for really good kids who just weren’t finding their groove? do you know kids who are going to make really fine grownups but these kid-hood, it sure can be bumpy? are you a grownup who once heard the giggles on the other end of the line? what wisdom would you share? who wants to start a saturday night club for the coolest kids in the world?
p.s. cool photo above taken by really cool kid i happen to know…