pull up a chair

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

Month: December, 2007

g’night sweet year

i am, after all these bedtimes and all the tender kisses on someones’ heads, and all the litany of thank-you prayers, and all the one more drinks of water, all the questions that could not wait till morning, all the tucking in of sheets and smoothing blankets, all the one last peeks from there at the doorway before i too turn in, give in to sleepy eyes and sleepier limbs, i am rather practiced in the art of letting go one slice of time, waiting for the morrow.

and so it is with this sweet year, the one now toddling off to sleep, to be forever tucked away up high in the closet full of rememberings.

before, though, we bid it off, i felt inclined to curl up here for one more bedtime story hour. to look back on all the days and all the nights, to sift through time, to hold it close while its hours still are warm, still are beating with a waning pulse.

good night, sweet year, good night.

good night to year of boy turned six, and boy turned four plus ten. good night to year i myself ticked across mid- century. good night to year one boy lost a baby tooth, and the other lathered for a shave. a first for both, same august weekend.

good night to year we thought we lost the spring, the year the snow and ice came tumbling down–in april. but hallelujah, resurrection came. in the form of sprightly daffodils who would not be put under.

good night to year we kept a watch on papa sparrow and the missus, watched them flit from here to there with bits of sheets and string, even squares of calico, to build a nest, lay an egg or three, and give a fateful flying lesson. which landed, oops, a bit abruptly, and rather not-so-softly, on the bluestone stoop that might not have been considered in the sparrow flight plan.

good night to year in which we practiced paying attention–kept an eye on molasses light, listened to a summer’s rain, considered the march to death of the 17-year cicada.

too, it was the year in which we listened–to the unfiltered questions that pour from five year olds, the bedtime fears and butterflies on the brink of going off to school.

we listened, too, to the sound of breaking hearts when the news beyond our walls came rushing in, and wasn’t pretty. not at all, at all. and not today, especially.

we held the hands of friends, held them as their mothers died, their fathers fell, and marriages collapsed.

we held our breath as well. held our breath as children couldn’t make it up a mountain, and fell and skinned a knee. again and again. but managed, somehow, to get back up, keep climbing, showing what they’re really made of.

we lost sleep over worries we could not fix. and fears that wouldn’t slink to the back of the closet. where we wish they’d curl up and fade away. and not come out again some rainy gloomy day.

but somehow, somewhere–maybe in the quiet of the winter’s first thick snowfall, or in the dawn after dawn when only the pit-a-pat of the typing keys broke the morning’s silence, maybe then–we discovered bits and pieces of our selves, and our soul, that had been lost for quite a while.

i, for one, found myself not being quite so filled with shame and fear at the mention of my long confounding struggle, the one in which i’ve come to understand that to feed myself–feed myself well, mind you, not stingily and wrapped with make-believe rules–is not only necessary but rather like dancing with the divine, three times a day. or at least it can be.

and speaking of the divine, i believe i found again my mooring in a foggy harbor. the mists are lifting now. i know what i know, and i’ve come to understand the power of a story, and a hero who has stood the test of time and centuries upon centuries. never mind the hierarchy–and history–that, God forgive, got in his way.

i found here–right here at this table–a community of true friends. ones who’ve heard my ups and downs and sideways, and still they come, pull up a chair. sit a spell. spill their stories upon my story. and at least we know that we are not alone. we might be the only one on our block, or in our little town, who thinks and feels the way we do, but somewhere out there, somewhere where this table reaches, there is, thank God, a someone else.

a someone who believes in home and heart. someone who believes that what unfolds at the kitchen table matters deeply. someone who keeps an eye out for the divine in the every day. in the scarlet flash of the cardinal just outside the kitchen window. in the full moon rising, or the crescent moon hung low.

all in all, i’d say, ‘twas rather a full year. and fully it was lived.

no wonder it is time for bed. and the year–and i, as well–seems rather sleepy. here, let me take you up the stairs. time for prayers. and then, lights out.

g’night, sweet year. and thank you. bless you for these sacred holy hours. and all the joy, the sorrow even, that they brought our way. can’t imagine having missed a single minute of the story. life itself, would be the thing we’d lost. and that, i’m not willing to surrender.

not a minute, not a second. not a single snippet of this sweet year, now settling into slumber, on its way to dreamland.

sleep tight, sweet year, g’night.

we’ve all weekend, and all of monday, to whisper our goodbyes and thank yous. what, most of all, comes spinning through your mind when you think back on all of ‘007? we’ll look ahead soon enough. for now, i’m wondering what of this blessed year you will forever carry with you?

dear santa

i know, i know, it’s not standard practice to send off a missive the day after christmas. but, geez, santa, i have been known to make my boys sit down and scribble their oh-my-gosh thank yous to you and the elves, and, well, this year, seems i too felt a bit of the great oh-my-gosh.

i had every intention, on christmas itself, of tiptoeing down at the crack of the dawn, of plugging the tree in, shaking the cinnamon into my coffee, pulling a chair up to this old french pine table here where i do all my typing, penning some thoughts and sending them off to the pole.

ah, but then in the stillness, in the part of the story where ol’ clement c. moore writes, “not a creature was stirring…” well, there was a stirring, all right. more like a clomping, right outa bed, onto the creakiest floor board in this creaky old house.

the little one was up, was ready to dash down the stairs. but the big one, the one who at 14 is a little less–but only a little, i assure you–eager to rise in the dark, grope under the tree to see what maybe you dropped from your lumpy red sack. well, he couldn’t be stirred from deep in his forest of slumber.

and around here, there’s an unspoken code: it’s all or none in the lunge for the tree, come christmas morn.

so i had my hands full for an hour or so. read every book we could find to try to distract the little one. (by the way, speaking of dear mr. moore, the early riser refused to let me read for the 98th time this season, “the night before christmas,” saying it was no longer the night before, and he had no patience for a tale whose prime had expired.)

then, poor thing, sated with stories and turning of pages, he just stood at the door outside the bathroom while the big one took a shower, brushed his teeth, did everything ‘cept slap on the aftershave to draw out the minutes into nearly half of an hour.

the poor little one drummed his fingers, he did. so did his papa. it was an exercise in delayed gratification, yes it was, and the child managed, just barely, to make it.

at last, both boys, their buffalo footsteps in tandem, tore down the stairs, shook the old timbers, and wasted no time exploring their respective small mounds.

well, let me just say, santa, that the child was bowled over by your goodness. he must have said 85 times, “that santa is the sweetest best person in the whole world.”

and, well, as the whole sparkle-filled day kept unfolding, as the shoulder pads that he’d asked for were squeezed over his head, as the big one clicked the new lens for his camera, as all of us reveled in the day that finally had come, the day of going nowhere, doing nothing but reveling in the completion of yet another cycle of waiting, preparing, occasionally running like mad, well, i couldn’t help but think that the whole notion of santa really is paving the way for a knowing the God who is good, who is full of surprises, who delights, who draws wonder, who gives what isn’t even thought to be asked for.

and well, that really is reason for me to believe in the believing in santa. to watch little eyes light up. to see a six-year-old swirling in smiles.

oh, i know christmas isn’t about santa. i know you’re just an add-on to the main event. i know, i know.

but watching the little one bathe in a warm tub of wishes-come-true, i couldn’t help but feel blessed that he knows what it is to believe in invisible goodness.

to believe in the power of someone who comes in the cloak of the nighttime, who leaves not a trace, except for the white filmy rim there in the milk glass, and the crumbs on a plate where, just before bedtime, cookies had been plucked from the tin with serious thought and a level of care that managed to push back the climb into bed by at least five or 10 minutes.

it’s not a bad start for a life of believing in things we can’t see. in a goodness that, time and again, will bring us our wildest dreams. and then some.

not a bad start for knowing that out in the beyond there is a someone who’s there whether we’re looking or not. who is there to tap on our shoulder, to put a hand to the small of our back. to reach out a hand–even two if we need it–to drag us up from the depth of our depths.

not a bad start, and not a bad middle.

here i am, here at my mid-century mark, and once again, all over again, i am marveling, believing in the jolly old elf with the belly that wiggles like a bowl full of jelly.

merry christmas, ol’ elf. merry merry.

i know i didn’t write you a letter this year, didn’t ask for even one thing. but you delivered, you did. what you brought came plain on the face of a boy with eyes all aglow, and heart all atwitter. ‘twas breathtaking, my friend. and thank you is all i wanted to say.

so, thank you, dear santa. thank you so very much.

love, year after year,

the little one’s mama

merry boxing day, anyone who’s taken a minute to make it over here to the table. i sure did mean to get out my merry christmas ahead of time, but well a strep germ rather got in the way. did you have a magical moment of believing at your house yesterday? did you see something in someone’s eyes that melted your heart?
as i lolligagged my way through probably the sweetest christmas i can remember, i realized that christmas is a day that bubbles up what’s deepest in our hearts, whether that’s grief or loneliness or–if we’re lucky, if we’re incredibly blessed–just pure joy. can’t say as i’ve ever had a christmas before that felt quite so full. christmas, for a very long time, has been one with a big gaping hole. something wonderful is filling in that empty space. maybe it’s a bit of what we’ve created together here at the place where the chairs are pulled up. for that, i say thank you to you and thank you on high. merry everything. love, the chair lady

the littlest manger

just the other night, i lifted baby jesus out of his tangle of old, old shredded papers. mary, too. and joseph, who carries a lantern the size of a fat grain of basmati.

for all the commotion of what it took to get to them–the ladder that falls from the attic had to be pulled, which meant all the boxes in the hall upstairs had to be moved, then i needed the tall one to help haul down the big cardboard box, the one marked “bam merry christmas,” and while i was at it, i noticed the attic needed some shuffling of stuff, which meant that by the time i climbed down the creaky stiff ladder, the one with the joint that might be arthritic, what with its resistance to bending and the complaining it does, i was chilled to the bone–anyway, for all that preamble, i have to admit my holy little family just might be a bit, um, underwhelming. a bit easy to miss.

you might be here in my house, say, for a christmasy moment, and you might walk right past the three little people, time after time. mary herself is no bigger than the tip of my pinkie. the babe in the bed, maybe as big as one orzo pasta. no longer or wider.

it’s odd, then, perhaps, that i so deeply needed them hauled from the attic. it’s not like they’re commanding whole stretches of real estate. not like the mantle is theirs and theirs only.

as a matter of fact, they are tucked right on the ledge of a bird house i hauled home from a farm just last summer. tossed it in the back of a pickup, watched it bounce down a long country road. it’s a birdhouse built to look like the church on the top of the hill in that sweet farmer town, and i think, now, it’ll be the perch for my holiest littlest family.

i was practically hungry, you might say, for the three tiny folk to get out of the box where i lay them each year, come january, when it’s time to put away christmas.

i was hungry in that way when your soul is silently growling. like a tummy needs soup, only your soul needs sustenance too.

now that little manger, for something 99 folks out of 100 would walk right past, not notice, is, like all symbol in life, packed with a wallop of meaning to me.

it is my whole christmas distilled. it is, eensy as it is, the essence of a very long journey. and this year, i’m thinking, i’ve made it back home.

what i mean is it tells a story, the story of how a catholic, one who once saw the hand of God everywhere, one who once watched, through spread fingers and tears, as the face of Jesus up on a cross in a faraway chapel kept changing and changing right before my eyes—a Kodak slide show, i called it, a miracle really i thought, of all kinds of faces, black and brown, wrinkled and gray, a dozen or so, a true tour of the world, all in faces, a miracle that spoke to me in the certainest words: find God in each face–it tells the story of how that catholic married a jew.

a jew, by the way, who is deeply observant, who bore his own heartache at the fact that he married outside of the tribe. outside of the lines, he colored his life.

the question that’s posed, and answered, in that small wood-carved trio is this: how in a home–how in the sacred space you build only on trust, and faith in each other’s capacity to move beyond what you’ve known all your lives–how do you weave the christmas that means everything with the one that always was cast as a threat to your people, your race, and religion?

well, i started small. i started on tiptoes.

there is no place in my heart or my home for bombast or noise. certainly not trickery. i am appalled when i read–as i did just a week or two back in the new york times–of interfaith families who use christmas and hanukkah as some sort of weapons, a tug-of-war rope to see whose holiday is left standing, and whose falls.

oh, lord, no. i did not marry a man i love, i did not nosedive out of the safe zone to whittle away my life playing holiday games.

and so, amid a whole carton of hand-me-down wooden carved angels and shepherds and even a platoon of brass-playing penguins, long long ago, i moved back the tangle of old paper shreds, and there lay baby jesus, a toppled joseph and upturned mary, as well.

i remember catching my breath, gasping, and staring at the sweet little family. i lifted each one in my palm.

i knew then, that very first christmas, that i had a creche i could softly, quietly, tuck off to the side. wouldn’t ruffle a feather. wouldn’t stir, not even a mouse.

the fact of the interfaith journey is that–if you are paying attention, if you are listening closely to what many on both sides are saying–it can be a long arid road. you might spend a few years in the desert. you might fall on your knees, night after night, praying one thing: dear God, keep the pilot light lit. don’t let it snuff out.

the fact of the interfaith christmas is you need to be gentle. need to listen with very big ears to the layers of history. you need to know that a tree isn’t only a tree. a tree was, likely, the one thing that separated you from all of your neighbors. you were proud of that fact. it meant, you believed, you were the people God chose. it meant, too, you were the people painfully persecuted. by the catholic church as well as the nazis. at separate times, in separate ways, but persecuted nonetheless.

never once have we not gotten a tree. my husband, God bless him, has joyfully carried one home, year after year. last year, he grabbed the fattest one on the lot. frasier fir, too, the best that there is in the christmas tree business.

a creche, though, i feared, might be pushing a little too far. so i joyfully settled my heart into the littlest one that came in the box.

it’s always been my own little christmas. my devotion was quiet, was whispered, was in the deep of the night. or when everyone else in the house had magically vanished, and i was alone.

it carried me through years of not knowing. for a few years there, i listened intently to all the talk of the historical jesus. my ironclad knowing that Gospel was Gospel had been shaken, and shattered. i was left holding little but shards.

christmas came all those years. and i clung to my littlest manger. my manger that didn’t get in the way, that no one needed to notice. but that held me, rapt.

this year, not long ago, i somehow, without even feeling the climb, got to the summit. i realized the power of story, regardless of provable fact.

i don’t need to know if someone far, far away and long long ago can prove the steps and the words of a man we say was born in a manger.

in the utterly simple, deeply profound truth of the matter, i took in the whole christmas story for the power of its infinite metaphor: a babe born in a barn; the unlikely virgin mother; the carpenter guardian; the chorus of barnyard critters; the innkeepers who hadn’t a room; the bright shining light in the heavens; the shepherds and journeying kings.

for a minute there i thought maybe i needed to go get a creche bigger than the tips of my fingers. thought really it’s time to not tiptoe.

but then, i lifted my littlest manger from out of the box. and i realized how perfect it is for a christmas i believe in with all of my heart: it is christmas condensed to its delicious, delectable best.

it is christmas in whispers. it is a babe born in the night. it is a savior whose very first cry was let out in the straw of a barn. it is the lord, greeted by shepherds.

and that is a story i am blessed to call mine.

do you have a something you lift, every year, from a box? a something that brings back all the whispers and echoes of christmases past? do you find that each year, as you retell the story, it takes on new layers of meaning? it grows as you grow? i do understand that not every house melds such layers and strands, and i do try to make this a table with places for all. but maybe in some thread of this story you heard, or you felt, a bit of your own. your musings this christmas, if you don’t mind….

i’m still feeling my way here, in terms of when i meander. i do think i’ll be back with a blessing for christmas. stop by here, whenever you’ve time. the words–and my heart–will be waiting.

the pigeon man of lincoln square

the police called me last night. a few times.

they were calling because an old man, an old bent-over man, one with a black canvas satchel slung over his shoulders, too-big janitor’s pants held up by suspenders, was shuffling along on a sidewalk, beside a busy city street, on a cold december tuesday, yesterday, at 2:15 in the afternoon.

probably, he was headed off to the fire hydrant, the red one, just by the bank at lawrence and western, where the pigeons, for years now, have counted him one of their flock.

the old man was walking, past a bank parking lot, when another old man, one driving a chevy van, pulled out of the lot. must not have seen him. the man in the van hit the one with the satchel.

the old man died.

the old man was joe zeman. but most everyone called him the pigeon man of lincoln square. cops couldn’t tell who it was. except for a newspaper story, one laminated, tucked in the satchel, one with a little rectangular label up in the corner, scribbled with the words, “for who ever.”

except for that story, one that showed him, in color, feathered with pigeons, one that told his story, the cops and the doctors who pronounced him dead at the hospital had no clue who he was.

the pigeon man’s life was like that. barely a soul had a clue who he was. mostly, only the pigeons.

that’s why the cops called me. they knew i knew a bit of his story. i wrote the one they found in his satchel. two years and three months later, almost to the day, and he still carried it–maybe half a dozen laminated copies of it–wherever he went.

the cops needed someone to call. needed to know if there was a soul in the world who might care to know what happened to joe.

there was no one, save for the pigeons. and me.

here’s just a bit of the pigeon man’s story, the one he carried till he fell down and died:

“except for the lips, you would think he was made out of stone, the man who sits, hours on end, on the red fire hydrant on western avenue, just north of lawrence, pigeons by the dozens perched on him.

“pigeons on his head. pigeons on his shoulders and right down his arms. pigeons poised on each palm. pigeons clinging to his chest. pigeons on his lap. pigeons on his thighs. pigeons, of course, perched on each foot.

“the pigeons peck and coo, occasionally flutter their wings. sometimes even scatter. but not the man, the man is motionless. you might mistake him for a statue.

“joseph zeman,” 77 when he died, “can sit for hours, barely flinching a muscle,” i wrote. “except for those lips.”

i wrote how he cooed right back to the birds. how he kissed them, right on their iridescent necks, flat on the point of their sharp little beaks. how he nuzzled them, rubbed his nose in their wings, the herringbone of feathers all black and charcoal and pewter and white. how he called them by name, his favorites. how he worried when one was missing in action.

i wrote how up in the attic where he lived a few blocks from the hydrant he kept track, in a neat little ledger, of whatever dollar bills might have been slipped in his hand, dropped by the side of his hydrant.

how he used the money for his pigeon supplies, the unpopped popcorn kernels, the bags of white rice, the loaves of deerfield farms enriched white bread, the maurice lenell oatmeal cookies, the plain old birdseed that comes in 50-pound sacks, which he broke down, each night, into zip-top plastic bags.

i wrote too, because he took me up to his attic, because he was proud to show off his deeply-thought method, of the old baby food jars he filled, each morning and night, with rice or popcorn, seven jars in all, and tucked in his satchel, each time he shuffled off to the hydrant.

twice a day, at least, once in the morning, once in the late afternoon, the pigeon man returned to his roost.

but the part of the story that’s stayed with me all these years was the part where he explained why he was drawn to the pigeons.

“all my life i had so much backstabbing at home, real problems there. i got to love the animals more, so trustworthy. fifty years, all i heard was ‘shut up, shut up.’ i needed help at home ‘cause i was handicapped. they took advantage of me. epileptic fits since the day i was born.

“because i had so much trouble at home, i learned not to say nothing, keep to myself. so they came up to me [the pigeons]; i appreciated the friendship out of a bird more than a person. they’re wordless. they come up with pure appreciation.”

zeman, who for 47 years ran a newsstand downtown, said that he considered sitting on the hydrant the most important work he had ever done.

“i’m really advertising to the public how easy it is to be good without an attitude; it’s just as easy to show decency as it is to hate today.”

zeman, a man without much schooling, understood how when he took to the hydrant, raised both his arms, palms upward–the veneration pose, really–as thousands of cars and trucks and smoke-spewing city buses rumbled by, drivers craning their necks to take in the sight of the stooped little man covered in pigeons, he really did resemble a modern-day st. francis of a city.

matter of fact, up in his little attic, he had boxes and boxes of st. francis postcards, each one printed with the peacemaker’s prayer: “lord, make me an instrument of your peace. where there is hatred, let me sow love…”

matter of fact, zeman once grabbed a stack of the postcards, maybe a hundred or so, and gave them to me. i tucked them all in the drawer of my desk, here where i do all my typing. i keep them, right there, to remind me of the wisdom of the lost soul who found his peace with the pigeons.

just yesterday afternoon, before the phone rang, before any cops called to ask what i knew, i had reached in my drawer for a calculator, and my hand ran into the stack, spilled and scattered, making a mess in the old pine rectangular drawer.

i started to shove the cards back into a stack, but then, for some reason, i picked up the top one, and i read it through to the very last line, which just happens to be, “and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

thinking back on the day, i know that the clock ticking beside me had to have been just after two in the afternoon.

that was the hour when the pigeon man of lincoln square breathed his last breath.

that was the hour the great gray raincloud of pigeons, the ones who for nearly 10 years had kept watch on the hydrant, had fluttered down as soon as a little stooped man slid off his satchel, settled onto his cold metal roost, raised both his arms, palms upward–the pose of st. francis–that was the hour the birds must have let out a most mournful coo.

this morning, for almost the first time in a decade, the hydrant is empty. the pigeons are perched. but the little man with the gentlest heart is not coming.

not ever again, amen.

oh, goodness. i’m back from my respite. and thank heaven there’s a place where i could tell joe zeman’s story. carry it close to your heart, maybe. scatter some seed for the birds today. think of the man who found solace only in the birds of the city, birds often shooed and thought to be pests. the picture above is my desk drawer. i too had a laminated copy of the newspaper story, one the pigeon man gave me. i keep it off in another drawer. but last night, i nestled it next to the prayers of st. francis. seemed the right thing to do, as i remembered the man who taught me so much.

i’m thinking i’ll pull up a chair, meander, at least every wednesday, smack dab in the thick of the workweek. but as happened today, what i thought i would write got nudged to the side so i could tell the pigeon man’s story. that means i’ll be back friday to tell the one i intended to tell today. we’ll find a flow here, as we settle into a rhythm that’s new. till then, just wander back when you can, you might find something waiting.

oh, and one other thing, thank you so much for the beautiful thoughts you spilled as the chair wrapped up its whole long first year. i am touched. deeply.

only thing missin’ is the bonbons

or maybe it’s the big ol’ cupcake under a blizzard of coconut flakes and goopiest buttercream updrafts.
or, given that it’s me, me doin’ the whoopin’ and hollerin’ over here, me with my feets up on the old pine table where i sit, dawn after dawn, typing my heart out, maybe it’s just a big, juicy, certified-organic, pink lady pomme plucked from the boughs of some generous orchard.
i’ve always been lacking in the sugar department. but not in the savoring department. no, sirreebob, i am savoring the heck out of this day, and the hours that preceded it. the hours when all i heard from my soul, and my very sore fingertips, was one giant “phew!”
we did it.
we set out–me and the soul and the fingers–to see where we’d get if we were dropped, one distant december, in the snowiest woods. if we stayed there for a year, groped around, poked under leaves, sat by a babbling brook. looked skyward. counted moonbeams and twinkling stars.
some days, i swear, my ol’ boots, the ones i wear when i’m hiking, meandering about in the woods, they felt like 100-pound weights on each foots.
more often, though, i was barefoot and running through meadows. i was catching a glimpse of the butterfly wing. feeling the gentle fingers of God on my shoulder. hearing the sound of my heart thumping, and thumping some more.
i only kept doing the smartest thing i know if what you want is to get from place A to place Somewhere: i put one foot in front of the other. kept my eyes mighty peeled. my heart too.
and look, here, where we are.
we made it through the woods, all right. but the thing is, along the way, i found a something in the woods that fills my lungs, that makes my blood run quick. that gives me something to think mighty hard about.
i’m thinkin’ maybe the woods is a beautiful place, a place that offers me and my soul just what we need.
now i might be living off berries and tree bark if i do nothing but wander the woods, but heck, you never know who might come along, leave crumbs in the trail, for you and the bluebird to share.
what i mean in plain english (which i actually can dip into on occasion–when pressed, only when pressed) is this: ol’ pull up a chair ain’t goin’ anywhere.
(i said plain english, people, not proper. and for that grammatical sin i do beg forgiveness. mea culpa, as charged.)
now i do think i’ll take a few days off. see what it’s like to look at the world without rushing to capture a picture. pound out some thoughts. heck, my little one now routinely asks me, “is this for the blog?” whenever i pull out the camera. or ask him a question in what apparently is my decidedly transparent this-might-be-for-the-chair questioning style.
imagine the therapy bills: “well, you see, my mother, she scribbled whatever i said. she rushed to this box on her desk and she wrote and she wrote. it was odd, doctor. i barely could keep even a secret.”
ah, such is the trial of growing up in a house where the mother is watching every last move. where the mother is always mining for meaning. where a chicken breast, for crying out loud, can never just be a white lump of meat. it might be a symbol. a metaphor, even.
did i ever tell you that i might be the only mother of a 6-year-old who struggled to read but displayed three years ago his fluency in the fine art of making a metaphor? (his big brother was three when he nailed the concept–and pronunciation–of “facetious,” as in the state of being with tongue deeply embedded in cheek.)
oh, forgive me, it’s just that i’m giddy today.
see, there were spells there where i did not think i would make it. where i thought the words, like a well, might not come, might dry up completely. where the waking up with the earliest bird was getting, well, thin.
but there was something here in the room with the screen all aglow. there is something about waking up, fresh to the day, and cobbling thought as you type.
as a writer, the exercise was breathtaking. i’ve heard forever and ever of the power of daily practice. i’d never quite done it before. not with the sharp edge of knowing the minute i hit the little gray button, the one that says “publish,” my thoughts–and more than a little bit of my self, really–were headed out onto the internet highway, where any old soul could pull up and peek into the windows.
it is a wholly different thing than scribbling into a journal. and way more exposed than writing that’s allowed in a newspaper.
quickly, though, i found that the street i was on ran two ways: pull up a chair gave form to my life, and my life gave form to the chair. over time, threads turned into truths, and outlines grew clearer, and what i believe is more deeply held.
and not only that.
the dailiness of the exercise was, actually, supreme. i lived, for the year, with a built-in alarm, or maybe a sensor. when i was struck in a particular way. when something took my breath. or made me gulp. when a wisp of a something whipped itself up in a frenzy. i knew then i had something i’d ponder and put on the chair.
i am convinced that if i hadn’t had the black gaping hole to fill, day after day, with something that mattered, i might have lost some of the moments that, surprised me, amounted to something.
what i wrote here was rather unedited. it was raw. and while that might make for a pulsing sense that i was saying too much, i was amazed time and again at the thoughts how they came, how they fell on the screen. i was tapping into a place that needn’t be filtered. i was not trying to get anywhere most of the time, just watching the river meander, going with the proverbial flow. believing always that, somehow, through voodoo maybe or just crossing my fingers, it would make a point, reveal a truth, be wiser than i was, that’s for sure.
true writing can do that.
i put faith in the process.
and here we are. one whole year later.
and where, now, do we go? for we are a we now. it’s not just me, never was. we are a table with chairs. and many, many legs.
i am thinking i’ll write as inspired. i could pick a particular schedule, but then what if i’m hit in the head–or the heart–with a moment i simply must write.
on the other hand, i don’t want to lose the magic that comes with a disciplined practice, the bubbling to the surface born of the drive to meet deadlines.
i might now be more inclined to drop morsels that aren’t purely essays. i might use the table in ways more informal (not that i ever felt the urge for a tux or long ropes of pearls).
say, for instance, a snippet of overheard conversation. a cake you must try (or given, again, that it’s me, an eggplant terrine). or news about birds.
and at least once a week, i promise, a plain old meander. just like we’re used to.
fact of the matter is, there are blogs and writings a brewin’. my blessed friend true is up and she’s runnin’. check her out, from down on the farm, where you’ll swoon. slj is stirring her everyday soup, and soon as it’s ready, i’ll give you a holler. tell you, soup’s on, come grab your spoon. my wise friend, and occasional visitor here, sosser, is making art of the scraps and the bits that she finds in her life.
and as other fine writers give birth to places to write, i swear on a tall stack of bibles, i’ll point you to all of their babies.
as for here at the chair, you tell me what you’d wish for, or what your sweet heart desires.
i see no reason to leave these fine woods. there is much, after all, to catch our attention.
the earth, as it spins, keeps revealing. and if we keep watch, perk our ears, open wide the souls we were given, surely, we’ll catch a few rainbows, maybe a snowflake there on our tongue. certainly we’ll spot the flash of the red bird, flitting to high in the fir trees.
and through it all, in whispers that can’t be denied, the soft breath of the holy divine, with a promise to fill up our lungs. and give us a reason for wandering, wondering, in the woods in the first place.
before i go, then, only this: bless you and thank you for holding my hand here in the sweet piney thicket.

now, tell me your vision, if you have one, of where in these woods we should go, and which way maybe to walk. would you like a regularly scheduled meander, or is whimsy the way to go here?
oh, and if there’s a cupcake lying around at your house, be sure to tuck in a candle, light it, and make a big wish. you and me, we made it together. happy year, chair. now could someone please pass me more coffee?
i’ll be back here in a few days, maybe a whole week. i’ll just stretch out my striped-stocking legs up on the desk, wiggle my fingers, get circulation back to the tips. so feel free to leave your thoughts. i’ll be by to soak ‘em all up.
geez, i can’t imagine not waking up to type my heart out. don’t be surprised if i’m back sooner than i think.

something to say

when i was little, the words, three simple ones really, came one of two ways.
it might be the not-so-good way. the way when i was sent to my room, in some sort of trouble, and told not to come down–here comes the thundering voice, the voice like the one that bellowed to moses, or adam, or one of those early biblical fellows–“until you have something to say.”
or, more often, it might have been there at the edge of the dinner table, when i had scootched-in my chair, employed both elbows and sputters of words to try to make room between milk that was spilling, and stories and noise, to grasp at the pause between breaths, so me and my thoughts could maybe squeeze in.
perhaps, maybe, someone might notice, someone at one end of the table, someone might then spill the three little words, not as above, not as the key to unlock the door of the child in trouble, but rather, permission or challenge: do you have something to say?
w-w-why yes, i might stammer. why yes, i do. and then i’d attempt to quickly put sound to the thoughts that scrammed through my head.
w-w-why, yes.
as a matter of fact, i do.
and so early on i found out, you’d better have something to say if you open your mouth. please do not blather. there are plenty of voices here at the table. plenty of noise. you needn’t just open your mouth, show us your tongue, and your wiggly tooth, if there’s nothing but air coming out.
earn your voice, sweetheart.
maybe perhaps that’s the reason i have always had visions of wisdom that, curiously, took the form of an old gentle woman, there at the farmhouse table. i saw generous hands. saw them plopped on the wide planks of pine. pine etched with the markings of years, indents from scribbles of homework, stains from coffee that spilled in the heat of discussion, or unbridled laughter. when arms that were reaching to touch maybe knocked over a mug.
it is the voice there at the table that i heard in my dreams, over and over again. i wanted to grow up and grow old and grow wise.
i wanted that table to often be filled. with one, maybe two, or, heck, a whole gaggle of very good souls. i wanted wisdom to pour there like cream from the pitcher. i wanted it thick, sweet and delicious.
i believe, very much, in that table.
and so, going with a hunch and a wisp in my heart, i made like the iowa farmer in the field of faraway dreams. the one who heard a bellowing voice, plowed his corn field, for crying out loud, laid out a diamond for players of baseball. if you build it, they will come, promised the voice. and, of course, it being a movie and all, they came. a whole screen filled with pickups, by golly.
well, gulp, i didn’t plow any corn field. but i did go with a dream. and i hadn’t a clue how it all would turn out.
that, though, wasn’t the point.
the point was here was a chance to set a place where wisdom belonged.
the point was, the world as i saw it needed a chorus of voices. voices that might gain in volume, that might bellow back. voices that might start with a whisper, or maybe a stammer, but slowly emboldened would rise to a roar. or at least we could sit and talk to ourselves. hear the fine echo of voices who think like each other. or, once in a while, pipe up in fierce disagreement. but with reason. and gentility, please.
i wanted, deeply, for mine not to be the one droning voice. i wanted a table crowded with beautiful sound, the sound of sweet conversation. raucous, but always polite. sharply thought, but gently delivered. i wanted, and i got–oh, boy, did i get–my breath taken away. but that’s getting ahead of the story.
here’s how it started.
it was a year ago tomorrow. it was a tuesday, though, just like today. “a tuesday full of grace,” i wrote on the very first day. seemed fitting.
for the table i set there, the place that i built in the hopes that people would come, it was, from the beginning, a place for grace to make itself known.
i wrote this, last year on that grace-filled tuesday:
“we are looking for everyday grace. i believe that in quietly choosing a way of being, a way of consciously stitching grace and Beauty into the whole cloth of our days, we can sew love where before there was only one moment passing into another.
“making the moment count, that’s what it’s about here. inhaling, and filling your lungs and your soul with possibility. learning to breathe again. learning to listen to the quiet blessed tick and the tock of your heart. filling your soul with great light so that, together, we can shoosh away the darkness that tries always to seep in through the cracks, wherever they might be.
“please, pull up a chair…”
and, oh, as dr. seuss says, the places we’ve gone.
today marks the 261st monday through friday of writing. there were two times when i meandered twice in a day, and one long ago saturday, when i called a town meeting of sorts.
that makes for a total of 264 meanders. and that makes today the last day of a year, a year in which i made a promise, mostly to myself, to write every weekday, to record the coming and going of season, of sunlight, of life.
it was not always easy. though not a once did i write a word i regret. sometimes i was dizzy with joy. sometimes i took a deep breath and, always, i went with the truth. i cried and i laughed as i typed. words poured without even trying. came like a breeze through the trees. or stars up above. just appeared from out of the dark.
sometimes, though, i felt naked, or tired, or achy. i worried over many a word. wondered if maybe i’d said too much. wondered if anyone listened. or cared.
but i kept writing. i thought, maybe perhaps, i had something to say.
i knew, that at least, i was recording a year for my children. i was leaving a trace. i was writing, in the end, a very long love letter.
i left little out.
i wrote of the sound of snow falling. i wrote of a carpenter who took his own life, too short that life, too too short.
i wrote of a most blessed friend making her mother’s last hours filled with the scent of lilac and soft pillowcase threads.
i wrote of a boy who climbs in his bed, armed to fight monsters, and wakes up to a room filled with rainbows. i wrote of the questions a young child asks that cannot be answered.
i wrote of hearing God in the whispers of wind. i wrote of seeing God in the face of a shivering man under a blanket in the bowels of the slush-covered city.
i wrote of hearing my grandmother over my shoulder as i stirred and i patted her shortcakes.
i wrote, often, of my mother.
and, many a time, i wrote of missing my father. always missing the one who called me his sunshine girl.
i wrote of brisket and bumblebees and butterflies whose orange-spotted wings made for a fluttering burial ground on the beach, not far from my prayerful place.
i wrote of the moon and its lace and its shadow, and the snow when it’s white.
i wrote of groping in the dark for my rosary, of lulling myself into sleep when sleep wouldn’t come. i wrote of summer rain. and the need for an emergency blanket, when it’s a day with a sky filled with clouds that demand to be watched, gulped, really, like a spoon of whipped cream.
i wrote of mama bird making her nest, and baby bird’s bumpy first flight.
i wrote of tucking a heart in my little boy’s pocket, sending him off to a school where the butterflies are not the sort a mama can net, and tuck in a jar.
i wrote of the firefly. and the tooth fairy. and saint nick.
i wrote of aching and worry, and falling in love.
i wrote of making a home and a garden, catching the glint of the sacred there in the dust, tilling it in the soil that sprouted the seed.
i wrote of birth, death and resurrection. and much of the mess, and the glory, in between.
i wrote, i believe, of all the things that most matter to me. and maybe to you. i do deeply hope so.
turns out i had something to say. and i said it.

so this is it, the end of a long year of writing. tomorrow we’ll look down the road, see what we’ll change, what we’ll keep. for now though, i want to hear lots and lots from all of you. you who pulled up a chair, once or twice, or maybe, God bless you, each day. i would love to hear why you pulled up a chair, and what you found when you got here. did this year of writing make a difference to you? are there any meanders that you remember without looking back at the archives?

before i go i want to say one more thing: thank you. with all of my heart. you who so loyally stood beside me—jcv, slj, lamcal, hh, carol, wm ulysses, bam2, wise one, susan, jan, emb, pjv, sosser, true, crd, claire. kd in nj, across the way, mbw, jpt, mem, dpm and becc, bdk in his various guises. vpk most of the time sent her comments straight to my email. but she was there, every day. i made friends here, friends who will last forever and ever. i am eternally blessed here at the place where the chairs are. and far and beyond.

this table is yours as much as it’s mine, you who poured out your brilliance day after day. thank you for making me wiser, braver, more true.

the danger of making a list is forgetting someone you love. my list is the ones who wrote back whole heartedly, often. or who simply inspired the heck out of me. and speaking of inspiration, to will and to teddy, my beautiful beautiful boys. will who launched me, who taught me the art of the picture, will who keeps me in stitches. and teddy who stole my heart at his birth and has never ever let go. i adore you. and if you ever wonder why, just pull up a chair. love, your mama


i kept an eye on that clock. the minute hand seemed to be moving like mud through molasses. or maybe it was up there taking a bit of a snooze.

after all, it was — and i knew this because despite the sleepy part’s insistence otherwise, despite its inclination to give up and quit the one job that it has in this world, it was still telling time — and the time that it told me was that, yes indeed, it was minutes away from the middle, the deepest dark hour, of the night.

and the child i’d last seen a few hours ago, when i dropped him off at the curb in the snow and the glow of a street lamp, well, he was out coursing the roads, the roads getting icy, and i was there in the kitchen thrumming my fingers, pretending to read, but really i wasn’t paying one bit of attention.

my attention, instead, was rather devotedly glued to the hands of the clock and the knob on the door that i was willing to hear make a click.

someone’s home, it would say. the someone you wanted to see is safe now, is here. is back from the place where you have utterly no control. where cars can cross lines and odd things can happen. where outcomes are wholly, eternally, always, left to fat chance.

not home. not there in the view of your eyes where you can be a little more certain — if not utterly 100-percent guaranteed–that all will be well.

and so in the abyss that plunges between those two cliffs — uncertainty and certainty — i engaged in the ancient and timeless art of waiting.

to wait, sometimes, is to be pregnant with hope. sometimes to wait is to dread. but that’s not the case, not really, when it’s a child you birthed who is out in the world, and it’s dark and it’s late and you would like once again to hear the clomp of his feet sloshing snow on the rug in the hall.

to this particular species of waiting, you realize quite quickly, you are quite new, quite unaccustomed. you only just now are getting a taste of the trials that come with the letting out of the spool that, until now, you kept rather close to the palm of your hand.

the art of waiting for someone you love, someone to please come home, is an art that has lost some of its power here in the day of the cellular tether. worried? give a call. can’t find? cell can.

back through the history of time, though, there has been waiting and waiting. penelope waited for odysseus. civil war mothers waited for soldier sons. and now i, a mother whose son had just lost his cell phone, waited for mine.

odd thing, the book that was waiting with me, the book i was allegedly reading, the book whose words my eyes at least glanced at but didn’t take in, not so much anyway, was a book with a passage on waiting.

as the clock ticked ever-so-slowly, i passed over again the letters spilled there on the page.
this time i read:

“waiting, because it will always be with us, can be made a work of art, and the season of advent invites us to underscore and understand with a new patience that very feminine state of being, waiting.

“our masculine world wants to blast away waiting from our lives. we equate waiting with wasting. so we build concorde planes, drink instant coffee, roll out green plastic and call it turf, and reach for the phone before we reach for the pen. the more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry.”

the author of these words is gertrud mueller nelson, whose book, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, 1986) is a treatise on ritual, and one of those rare books that offers more, plentiful more, with each reading.

she encourages us to practice the art of waiting, the art of delayed gratification. our children, most of all, need to practice and practice, she urges. and this time before christmas, this time when the world is rushing so madly, she suggests in a deep counter-cultural challenge, is the peak time to settle in and make the most of the incubation that begs our attention.

“brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting, ripening, germinating, gestating are the feminine processes of becoming and they are the symbolic states of being which belong in a life of value, necessary to transformation,” nelson writes.

and i listen.

is not the slowing of time, and the quickening of attention, the whole point of our practice here? are we not, day after day, looking to slow the e-z, the instant, the world without pause?

are we not working to learn to cup in our hands, the winged butterfly landed amid his long flight, the holiest waters of life as they’re poured? are we not trying to stop, take a drink, quench the unquenchable thirst?

what then to do with the minutes near midnight, when the child you love, the child just starting to be off on his own, finding his way in the dark, isn’t home yet?

i suppose i could fritter away the slow-moving minutes. picture the car on the side of the road. the children jolting. the call that won’t come.

or, i could sink down to a deeper place in my heart. i could rumble around, think of the ways that he keeps me in stitches. think of the light in his eyes. picture the mop of his curls. remember the rhythm with which he plucked on his big double bass, there at the edge of the stage, when the light happened to shine and catch the tops of his curls.

i could take hold of the minutes of waiting and savor the blessing of beholding the boy who i love. i could practice the art of filling with hope. being pregnant to life and the possibility that requires some time, takes no short cut.

i could simmer some thought, brew a tall pot of ideas. i could ripen to love.

and when the click of the door comes, and the slosh of the very big shoes, i could sigh.

the long wait is over. my blessing spills over the side of the pan, roasting there in the slow, hot oven.

do you practice the art of waiting? do you try to savor the slow road in the interstate world that offers express lanes? in this wintry season of waiting, how do you make the most of blessed incubation?

speaking of this wintry season, i managed to find time to do a little housekeeping here at the chair over the weekend. and what spins on the lazy susan is new, is december, is plentiful. please give it a whirl.

and just in case you’ve been aware of the calendar, as i have, tomorrow is the very last day of our first year. i’ll have some thinks on the year, so please do come back. the coffee will be hotter, the cake on the platter just a little bit sweeter. do stop by for a visit. love, the chair lady

very last thing: bless you to julie for sending me to “the dance with God” in the first place. it was a fine friend while waiting the other night.

g’night grandma

could be, it’s one of the seemingly endless parade of tricks up his sleeve. his pajama sleeve, in particular.

this is, after all, a boy who’s been known to go hunting for cheetah in the deep of the post-bedtime hour. who routinely, for a while there, was hauling a whole artillery–light saber, batting helmet, frankinstein flashlight, did i mention the butterfly net–up to his mattress. a boy who thinks of 901 must-ask, can’t-wait, deep-thinking matters once the lights are flicked off. for instance: mommy, is tomorrow the hot dogs that bounce? (meaning, of course, the lunch lady’s un-bite-able excuse for stuffed sausage.)

or maybe it’s just that he’s grown fond of studying their faces, putting name to visage, ticking off his good nights in layers of history, layers of time, that’s not quite the same in the dark, under the covers.

but the latest wrinkle in our decidedly lengthening litany of things-to-be-done on the long road to bed is what he calls: “g’night faces.”

yes, there hanging at the near-top of the stairs, at the landing two-thirds of the way, at the spot where some day i’ll huff and i’ll puff and i’ll steady my old weary bones, there hang the four generations who preceded him on this lonely planet.

one by black-and-white one, he tells them g’night. it is all, now, a part of his bedtime prayer.

there is the hatmaker from philly looking, well, hattish, with a wide-brimmed number she deserves to be proud of.

there is a slew of great grandmamas, the one looking severe, and ever so proper, from cincinnati, and the other one, animated, wrinkled, the one whose nose he is pinching in a not-so-long-ago snapshot from silver springs, maryland.

and then there’s the one neither of us knew, the one who looks rather like me. she’s looking soft, looking shy, looking sepia, looking markedly lacy in the clothes from her first holy communion.

then there’s the grandma, the grandpa, the grammy he knows inside and out. but here on the wall, they’re mere children.

there is his grammy, the one who mostly wears jeans and shoes for the woods, and there she is, a dimple-kneed child dressed to the nines, with a big floppy bow in her hair, and impeccable, hand-tailored clothes on her and her brothers and sister. it’s a picture that makes me wonder, where is the chocolatey mess? how could five children and their non-smiling mother possibly be so starched, so without rumples or spills?

and there is his new jersey grandma, romping with both of her parents, there on one’s shoulder, and there in one’s arms. and there she is, again, maybe just out of college, looking out at the world with eyes that, i’ve got a hunch, saw far more than most in wherever that room was.

then come the grandpas, both sides. one, scribbling notes, raising a pen, just to the right of ol’ ronny reagan, at some talk at the white house (yes, to the manchild’s dismay, the republican presidential poster boy hangs just to the left of his bedroom).

and the other grandpa, the one he’s not ever known except for the stories i tell and i tell, there he is, hmm, feeding a kangaroo down in australia, and there he is with a big bunch of leafy-topped carrots, and again tickling accordion keys.

his mama and papa aren’t there on the wall at the top of the stairs, they’re just to the west on a littler wall. but it’s merely a hop and a jump, and he can get glimpses of us growing up.

there’s his papa at the side of a plane, lined up with his heroes from baseball, tom seaver, and some other guy i should know, but i don’t. there’s even a charcoal drawing of my little one’s daddy. and of me, there’s a whole page of proofs from when i was four, and my brother was two, and we’d buried our noses in giant chrysanthemums, for the front page of the cincinnati enquirer. there is me, too, crying, looking shocked as i was, when they called out my name as homecoming queen, the first non-beauty queen ever, back at my high school.

in black-and-white rectangles, then, the story is told. the once-upon-a-time comes to life, in ways that names without faces cannot.

no wonder he takes to the wall. no wonder there’s no going to bed, anymore, without the g’night to the faces.

each night, i imagine, he notices, as do i, one more bit of the picture. a nuance, a shadow there in the eyes.

we study old pictures, we urge them to tell us a truth we’ll not really hear, no matter how long we stand there and stare.

but my little one is six. he’s the last one, it seems, of his generation. there are many before him whose lives he must sift through, to come to a deep knowing of just where he stands in his place in the line.

as long as my boys have been going to bed, there’s a prayer that we pray every night. we thank God for all of their parts, their eyes and their ears and their nose, right down to their back and their tummy. then, 14-some years now, we tick off each of the ones that they love, each of the ones who love them right back. we start with grandma and grandpa, we blow kisses to ones up in heaven.

and now, now that the g’night faces are part of the nightly equation, the prayer, he tells me, has come right to life.

“i look at the pictures and i just think i wish i could hear what they’re saying,” he told me last night. “sometimes i just wish i could go in those pictures. i wish i could see them in person–like grandpa geno,” who is my papa, who was gone 20 whole years before the little one came to the planet.

i know what it is to stand and stare at a picture. to wish you could will it to life. and maybe that’s part of the reason we hung them right by the stairs.

so that, in all of our comings and goings, our ups and our downs, the ones who came here before us, the ones whose noses we share, the ones whose brains we did or didn’t inherit, each one of them, all of them now hanging together, would come off the wall, and become a part of our everyday story.

and even our bedtime prayer.

g’night grandmas. g’night grandpas. see you in the morning.

do you have a place in your house where history comes to life? real history? your history? do you spend time thinking of those whose story unfolded long before yours? if you have children, do they love to look back at old pictures, to hear the stories that come with each 3-by-5, 5-by-7, or an even earlier sepia one that comes in odd measures?

speaking of story telling, a year of pull up a chair is days away from wrapping up. oh, we’ll go on pulling up, all right, but my everyday exercise in recording a year will be over. i will keep at this practice of searching for grace on the homefront, but not every day, i don’t think. you’ve heard more than enough. i’ll say more next week about this most blessed year, and look ahead to the next. i’ll be curious–very much so–to hear your thoughts, so i’ll ask. i just thought i’d mention today that come tuesday, i’ll have written for a whole year of mondays through fridays, december 12, 2006, through december 11, 2007. it’s a lot for me to think about, and i’m already pondering it now. until next week, then, have a most blessed weekend. and thank you for these last 51.5 weeks. love, the chair lady

the shoes by the door

i call today little christmas. but really it’s the feast of st. nick. the only saint–except for valentine, and i mostly forget that he’s saintly, what with all the chocolate and pink foil hearts, and all those lobster-and-steak coupon dinners, heck, even boxers besotted by heart-slinging cupids–the only saintly saint, then, that i stop to make much of a fuss over.
oh, but nick, he’s different. he and i go way back. i seem to recall something about shoes and oranges left by the door of my bedroom when i was little. it wasn’t an every year thing. although it might have planted a seed.
no, nick and i really got going when i, magically, woke up a mother one long-ago wintry morn.
okay, so maybe it wasn’t so magic, maybe there was a good dash of science, and a few thumb-twiddling months, besides. but, geez, this is the month of starry-eyed thinking, and today is a starry-eyed day. so excuse me for going starry-eyed there in the thick of my telling this tale.
really, the unstarry-eyed truth is that back early on in my mothering days i was groping my way through a woods i was finding enchanting, yes, but thick with trees and trails that zig-zagged in dizzying ways.
somehow though, pulled my heart, which always has been my best girl-scout compass, and lit by a few wise candleholders who held up their flickering flames, i found a way deep through a part of the forest that really isn’t too trampled.
it was a quiet meandering sort of a trail. it stopped to take in glimpses of magic, and all sorts of bits of enchantment. i don’t really know whose make-believe might have been more, mine or my curly-haired boy.
really, i was pretending i’d been born in an earlier century, and maybe a whole other continent.
i wanted little of the modern-day childhood, the one plugged-in and battery-charged.
blessedly, not far from my old city house, there sat a shop that fed my deepest enchantments. it was a place of fine books, and toys carved from wood, spun from the wool of a lamb, or maybe a cotton dyed with the oozings of petals and berries.
the door to the shop had a bell, so it tinkled whenever i or anyone else–especially a child–gave it a bit of a push. come december, that sweet little shop, a shop the size of a cottage, it spilled with christmasy magic. a squat pine, a real one, perched up on a table in the heart of the small little room. it was hung, always, with brown sugar cookies, cookies in shapes mostly of hearts, hearts tied with red ribbons.
baskets of wee tiny things lined the counter. and it was there, i am certain, that the magic of nick, the kind-hearted woodsman, the one who wandered from village to village, with his fat sack of oranges and treats, wholly bore its way into my heart.
i saw, there in the shop where the old-world felt present, felt possible, the one priceless gift i could offer my child: a christmas that tiptoed, not one that tromped and trampled and stomped on all of the wrappings, looking for more one minute after the last.
a christmas that worked its charm in small simple ways. in the magic of waking up to a shoe by the door, a shoe filled with an orange, a foil-wrapped snowman, maybe a cane of striped candy, or a bear the size of a little boy’s fist.
a christmas that unfolded on christmas itself with one extraordinary something–a gnome hut carved from a tree branch, perhaps, or a kaleidoscope that spilled with gem-colored stones, stones of ruby and sapphire and emerald–and, of course, a stocking quite stuffed. and that was more than enough.
and so, i learned from my shopkeeper friend, the beauty of the sixth of december.
it’s a day the world doesn’t much notice. you put out your shoes? people ask, a little bewildered. well, yes, as a matter of fact.
yes, it’s a day that unfolds with just enough of the magic and story to carry me and my boys through the ever-darkening days and lengthening nights, while we count down toward christmas.
it’s a day with just the right sprinkling of hop-out-of-bed, round-the-bend, go-find-a-something-that’s-otherwise-lost, even if that something comes with raggedy laces.
in my book, any occasion that adds ceremony to bedtime is one i wholly endorse. and every fifth of december, going on 13 years here, we go to bed only after picking just the right shoe to leave out in the hall, just to the side of the door to the bedroom.
once i finally hear the breathing of sleep, i tiptoe to off where my tucked-away bags are.
the delight for me begins, days earlier, when i mosey around to the sorts of shops that might have a bit of an old-world feel. i find candies, little ones, in wintry shapes. and peppermint sticks, and always, a clementine.
there is something, too, of keeping watch of the shoes, over the years, as they grow and they grow and they grow.
back when i started, the manchild was two. his shoes, were probably toddler 4. now his boots are solid 12-1/2s, “past noon,” as a shoe man on state street downtown once pointed out to the big-footed father of manchild.
no wonder his poor little brother left out a whole pair of his first-grader nikes last night. it’s hard to keep up with the shoes of a giant.
and so, as i type, as i wait for the sound of the feets that will run to the shoes, i sit here practically sparkling. there was barely a sound to this making of magic. just a shoe. and a hope that it would be filled, come the morning.
and it is that, the quiet that fills me with christmas, that i, most of all, count as the very best trail i ever did find there in the snow-covered woods.

first of all, a big thank you to sandra, my shopkeeper teacher. and now a question or two. tell me, what are the ways you find quiet at christmas? and who were the ones who guided you through the woods, no matter what part of your life you found yourself a little bit all turned around?

the sound of snow falling

sound of snow falling

it is december’s gift. a world now hushed, now left to whispers. a world caked with white meringue. as if all the eggs, sans yolks, and all the cream of tartar were whisked into the froth that kept on coming.

whole clouds of it fell last night. started with a flake or two, barely noticed, in the gray of afternoon. by dinner time, the limbs, the walks, the feeders for the birds, had lost their definition, were taking on a girth that might have made them groan.

except the world was wordless.

the world, when i slipped on my snow-exploring shoes, zipped up my puffy coat, was so silenced by the spilling from the sky, i could, without straining, make out the sound of snow falling.

it’s a sound, quite truly, that makes your ears perk up. and your soul, too.

unlike the pit-a-pat of rain, it is wholly unexpected. wind we know is noisy. humidity, except for moaning of the ones who find it hard to bear, is not. but that comes as no surprise.

the sound of snow falling, then, is singularly soothing and startling. it is a titillation for the ears, a tickling of the nerves that makes them, well, stand at full attention.

a sound not heard so often, certainly not in months and months, it came like water to a thirsty traveler. and i could not get enough.

i cocked my head. stood still as still can be. i took it in in gulps.

while drinking in the pit-pit-pit of falling bits of icy snow, i opened wide my eyes. without moving a whole muscle–save for the ones that shift my eyeballs–i was a machine in complete and total operation.

except the machine–the hearing, seeing parts–served one function only: the talking to my soul.

there is a stillness in the first of every winter’s snow that feels to me like coming home. it is in that unrippled place, that place where quiet is complete and whole, that i, and maybe you, feel as if the hand of God is reaching down, is showing me the way through snowy woods.

sometimes, too, i think i hear the sound of God, putting gentle finger to soft lips, shushing.

shhhhhhh, i hear God say. be still. be filled with only what is sacred.

what else, i wonder, could slow a world that can’t move fast enough? who else can keep the cars off of the road? the cell phones from incessant baying?

there was not a soul outside last night, not when i was there at least, and i was there for quite a while.

this morning, then, is quiet squared.

not even snow is making sound. it is simply, i suppose, taking in its new perspective on the world. used to be way up high, now it’s down where mortals play. and it looks intent on staying put.

not a bird is anywhere in sight. i think they know what the weather seers know, only without all the supersonic radar. i think all my feathered friends are safely tucked in cozy places. at least i hope so. i would like to think the birds are in their checkered armchairs, nestled by the fire, sipping cocoa, like i intend to do, any minute here.

it is december’s gift, this early snow. it is just in time to serve its highest purpose. to shush a world in full staccato. to make us perk our ears, to see if, this blessed day, we might hear the song of snow falling.

my snow-flaked friends, your thoughts this morn…
as i type now, one boy up and fed and off to school, the world has rustled from its sheets, thrown off the blanket, the world is hardly quiet. dang. that didn’t last nearly long enough. i hear the sound–the dragon mouth–of snow blower somewhere down the street, and the scraping of the shovels against the walks. but i also hear the solitary cheep-cheep-cheep of the scarlet papa cardinal come to scout around.
did anyone else hear the snow falling last night? did you take to your boots, and like papa cardinal himself, do some scouting in your ‘hood?

oh, a word about the magic pictured up above…that’s a gingerbread house just around the corner from me. when we moved here i realized i could see it from my bedroom window. i thought, well, lucky me. if i can’t live there, i can at least spend my life gazing at its cheery face. and if i lived there, i couldn’t keep an eye on it all night or day. the streetlamp, the snowy branches, the ginger cottage strung with little lights….hope you too found it delightful. and caught, perhaps, the sound of which i write….the magic sound of flakes aflight…