pull up a chair

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

Month: March, 2008

when dreams take wing

he called last night, my firstborn did. he’s far far away in the land of his dreams. he is, as i type, tromping the streets of the city he worships, the city he hopes some day will be his.

you might know it, it’s new york city, noisy place just north of new jersey. that child of mine was born of a city, and to a city he must return. this stint in the ‘burbs, here on the leafy north shore, he endures. but he can’t wait to get back to the holy ground. figures he’d pick the biggest, busiest metropolis around. the one where a bagel, with shmear, will set you back a few bucks. and that’s from a pushcart right there on the sidewalk.

the boy, at 14, has set his sights. it’s not just the whole of new york he’s so keen on, it’s the part he told me last night is “the academic acropolis,” the top of some really steep hill, he tells me, on the upper west side, where a whole stockpot of smart places are stirred into one intellectual soup.

now, that sounds, for the first time in his short little life, like a place to make his blood gurgle and slosh. and mine, right along.

see, this is a child who, as he stood in the kitchen in tears night after night in sixth grade, i consoled with the truest truth i could muster, and the only words i could think of to help: “sweetheart, i know being you as a kid is really really hard, but i am positive being you as a grownup is going to be wonderful.”

in t-ball in kindergarten, when other kids worried about sliding to home, my firstborn stood in the outfield, back to the pitcher’s mound, pointing up in the sky, shouting, “hey, look, it’s venus.”

when al gore lost the supreme court vote, way back in the 2000 election, my second-grader crumpled himself on the stairs, and cried for a good part of an hour. “but that’s not fair,” he kept saying. “the supreme court is supposed to be fair. how can you get more of the votes and not be the winner?” he knew the names of every supreme court justice and which way they’d voted, and he was beside himself at what he called “the justice injustice.”

in short: it’s been a long road, with patches of bumps, for a boy with his eye on matters a few years–heck, a few orbits–ahead of his time.

and so, no wonder, when a teacher he loves, a teacher who knows him quite wholly, looked him straight in the eye a year or so back, and said, “this college is the one where you’d thrive,” he bought it. gave it his usual deep probing study, and, bing, signed off on the deal.

seems, maybe, on the long nights of homework, and on the saturday eves when the phone didn’t ring, he’d sit up in his room and daydream of the one place on the planet where he thought, after all, he might really fit in.

oh, we’ve tried to distract him. spewed off the names of all sorts of fine places. even cooked up some dinners just to change the whole subject. but with a child set in his ways, there’s only so much you can do. he has, since back in the days when he lived, ate, and breathed small wooden trains, been a child of serial obsessions. this college is simply the latest.

and since we happened to have a new-york-bound ticket, one that had to be used, we figured why not give him a taste. either it sticks to his ribs, or he spits it right out. and besides, the whole of new york makes for a mighty spring break.

well, the phone rang last night, and i knew right away. heard it in his very first syllable, uttered across all of the miles.

he was, flat-out, gushing. here’s a snippet or two:

“at first i had to convince myself it was real, then i had to convince myself, not only was it real, i was here. oh, man, this is heaven.”

and then this:

“we went in this pizza stand for a huge slice of garlic pizza, and dad and i were like the only caucasians in the place and i felt totally at home.”

and this, of the library:

“it’s like the parthenon, except instead of savage gladiators ripping each other to threads, there’s books inside.”

he nearly melted, he said, when they stepped inside that ol’ book vault, and saw a sign indicating the whole first floor was devoted to philosophy, law, medicine, and theology. he was incredulous; row after row of thinkers, and all shades of believers. why, it was a world he would have drawn up himself. probably did, up there in his room, where he keeps on the light till late in the night.

it is, i tell you, a spine-tingling thing to hear your child, at last, find his place in the world, and to find it so deeply, so unshakably. in merely three years, the place could be his (i could swear, just yesterday it was lightyears away). and if it is not, he says, he’s willing to wait, take a year building wells in africa, maybe. all that matters, it seems, is he knows, after all, where he belongs. that he belongs, mostly.

now, i’m less of a pragmatist than anyone else in this house. more of a gauzy-eyed dreamer. i’m less apt to worry about that alphabet of obstacles, ACTs and GPAs. more inclined to think they’ll look at his soul, open the door. heck, i would. so, far as i care, the ping in his voice makes me think it’ll happen. my own personal magical thinking.

and besides, i’ve never been worried, not once–okay, not twice–that my odd-fitting boy would someday, somewhere, fit in. celebrate the eccentricity, his father once said, proudly, with a faint wash of tears in his eyes.

for every child, and every grownup, who’s ever worried, who’s thought they didn’t belong, at least not in their little slice of the pie, this then is a hallelujah, and a reminder: don’t give up, and don’t give an inch. be who you are, and fill your lungs wholly.

for every child, and every grownup, who’s marched to a tune all alone, keep the rhythm. there is, some place on the planet, a place with your name.

lord only knows, it might even be in the stacks upon stacks of philosophy tomes, at the top of a hill, in a very big city. that’s where my firstborn might now never leave. but at least now i know where to find him.

not sure i quite said all i set out to. this was supposed to be less about a particular place, and more about the pure act of finding your seat in the world’s musical chairs. and even more, about what it feels like to be the grownup of a child who at long last has found that extraordinary, elusive somewhere. the boy was giddy, and so am i. have you taken a long and winding road to the somewhere you belonged? or, maybe, did you know well before your time, just where you wanted to land? what helped you believe in yourself along the way? p.s. i just have to say, in case it’s not clear, my child is odd in what i’d say are very fine ways: he is smart, and he’s funny. it’s just that he thinks in ways that are wise far beyond his few years. and he won’t play the games of most of his peers. dear college-of-choice: don’t hold that against him. but that, i think, is getting well ahead of the story…

get better box to the rescue

at last, he’s asked for it. that might mean–after a long stretch of nights on the bathroom floor, after middle-of-the-night calls to the doctor when his hot little body started to shake and could not be stopped, after two rounds of mean nasty medicines–he’s finally coming back with the living.

(i should mention right off that this has nothing to do with the ol’ easter story–that most recent mention around here of a return to the living; rather, this is simply the tale of a boy and a bug and a box that seems to hold magical powers.)

it’s the get better box, and it lives on a shelf in his bedroom. way up high, where only a mama on tippiest toes can get at it, where she’ll blow off the assemblies of dust, lay it down at the side of his bed, or the couch if that’s where he’s stretched.

it’s a box that comes out only on days when there’s nowhere to go, and not much to do, except maybe to gauge the rise and the fall of the mercury there on the stick your mama keeps shoving under your tongue.

it’s a box that in our house is the nearest thing to wizardry, imbued as it is with the pure healing powers of trinkets and bits and thingamajigs. like the doctor’s black bag of long long ago, whatever’s pulled out from its shadowy insides is certain to fix you, or at least to distract you till the fever retreats.

it is all part of the witchcraft of healing a child. four tablets of fever-fighters, washed down with the voodoo of playthings reserved for the sickbed.

whatever it takes, is the mantra of grownups charged with the curing of limp, pallid bodies. of mouths that won’t open even for ice cream, mouths that seem only to moan. of foreheads so hot you worry whatever’s inside will be singed.

why, we wring washcloths and lay them on heads. we draw baths at 2 in the morning. we soothe and we coo and we rub. and all that we get, often, is more of the groaning.

until, at last, at our house, at least, that box is unearthed from the highest of heights.

if you cracked open the lid, peeked just into the shaft of light you’ve let in, you would see there before you an inventory of the ordinary: stickers, and play-doh, and puppets to slip on the tips of your fingers. you would see pencils the size of a toothpick, in a rainbow of colors. and small slips of paper to fold, or to scribble upon. you would see a stone rubbed smooth at the edge of a lake. and a feather or two, plucked from the trees, where a disrobing bird might have left them behind.

what you would not see is the incandescence its contents bring to the face of the boy who, at long last, looks up from his pillow with the faint light of joy there in the black hole of his eye.

it is the first sign of hope, and it comes from the box, i swear on a Bible.

just now i hear humming, clear from the couch. where the boy is at play with a whole troupe of puppets. it’s been nearly a quarter of an hour since he last called my name, which given the most recent days in our house, is quite rather a miracle.

the idea was not mine, nor did i have such a cure-all when i was a child. a dear and wise mother i know, one whose charm was, in good measure, the make-believe world she built for her children, she gave me instructions long long ago, and assured me the powers the squat box would bring.

and then, leaning in, she whispered the part that mattered the most, she insisted.

“when your little one’s better you must, together, take it outside, lay each ingredient in the sun, and explain that the ills are escaping and pure healing sunlight is being absorbed. it is the ritual, as much as the rarity of the box, that makes it so special,” i remember her saying.

ever since, it’s as much a part of our sickdays, as is the rubberband on the glass of the afflicted, and the folded-up washcloth there on the brow.

i can hardly believe i once wore a nurse’s cap on my head, but never had heard of the get better box. only once admitted to the ranks of motherhood, did a mother i love whisper the surest cure in the books. one so certain to cure, it’s not written anywhere.

until now.

the sad truth of the get better box story is that the mother who first spelled out its magic is now nursing a daughter with very bad cancer. not all the get better boxes in the world seem to be working. so on this day, when her magic is casting its spell here at my house, i wish and pray i had something to offer to her. i send love. i send light. i send prayer. what healing rituals did you grow up with, or have you birthed for your little ones?

no darker day

all night i tossed and turned, wondered if i would write how lonely it is. how achingly hard. to be the sole believer in a house i call home.

oh, there are others who believe other things. just no one else who believes what i do.

no one else who spills tears at the thought of the story, deep thought. deeper story, the one of today, the one of good friday, no darker a day.

no one else who came with me to church last night, who stripped off their shoes, stood in line, knelt down to wash the feet of another. no one else who knows what it felt like, how it wrung me right out, the man i don’t know, his deeply brown hands, tenderly, thoroughly, washing my feet.

it is, was, a wholly powerful moment. metaphor, yes. but literal, too. sensual, really. warm water was poured, my bare bumpy feet there in a bowl, a white porcelain bowl. no ceremonial sprinkle and wipe. not this. no.

i could barely look up. couldn’t breathe. all around me, humility loomed. filled the church, right up to the rafters. this church where i went–unlike the one of palm sunday–is a church that i love. it is filled with people of colors, filled with bodies so broken, but spirits that look to be whole.

beaming and grinning and shaking a shaker, the young handsome man strapped to a wheelchair. the boy with the face that is pretty much mangled. the one who was blind. the old lady who only could shuffle, and barely at that. all of them, there. so very there.

for three hours, i think, i was bathed in all of the ritual. the latin, the spanish. the incense, the candles. the bread and the wine. oh, and the song. cello and tambourine. children with bells. and the pouring of water on bare naked skin.

even i, a soul who’s felt not very holy of late, i was pulled right back to the flame deep inside. long long ago, a story was put there. a story i simply believed. over the years, it got jostled around. couldn’t be. yes it could. hmm, i wonder. oh, geez, i don’t know. i don’t even know anymore.

it’s the sad sorry fallout from hours and hours of listening, and hearing the people you love, people whose thinking you trust on all sorts of matters, come down, on this one, on the far side of the fence.

it’s the part of the jewish-catholic equation that isn’t much aired. and sometimes i think that it should be. it might untangle a knot.

there’s the words of the rabbi: you can’t believe it both ways. and the words of the priest: you love the same God. and then there’s me, sometimes lost in the middle.

it’s not likely to happen, perhaps, if you didn’t start out deeply believing. or caring too much. but on both of those scores, i raised my hand.

and that’s where the rub comes: after 20 long years, two-fifths of my life, of listening to scholars who find it all rather unlikely, but even moreso, watching the pain on the face of the man who i love on that long ago sunday of palms, or hearing the words of my firstborn when he says he finds it mostly improbable, my whole core has been shaken and rattled and, sometimes i fear, broken to bits.

i hold onto shards. pray for the blue glowing flame not to go out.

but then, on a night like last night, i go in a church, i take off my shoes and it all floods right back. the whole power and glory of a church that holds up this day, and the ones just before and right after. says, look at this. look how human and horrid and broken we all can be. look how this one single soul was betrayed, was mocked, was beaten, was made to carry a cross. and he died without raising his voice. except to cry out: “Father forgive them. they know not what they do.”

it’s a moment, i swear, to carry me far. it’s a moment i thank holy God for. each year, i come back. and many hours between.

but the hollow deep hole in my chest, when i feel all alone, and not very certain, it makes for some hours of unbearable darkness.

and how uncanny it is that this day, no darker a day on the calendar, somehow is lit from behind. like that sun through the clouds. or a star breaking through in the murk of the night.

it might be, just might be, a soul, after all, that refuses to succumb to the doubt.

perhaps, in the end, that’s what my easter miracle is. the maybe that turns to a yes. the yes that won’t fall to eclipse. do you struggle, when it comes to believing? what brings you home, time and again? is it the power of story, or the break in the clouds? i send you blessings, as we all wait out the darkness, counting on light to come in the dawn.

not too big

any day now, it’ll evaporate.

i’ll look out the window and not see the little boy bundled in snow suit and puffy snow pants, the one too little to know it’s quite little-boyish to pull up that hood, pull it so tight, so only his little boy cheeks, all rosy and round, poke out from the layers of puff upon puff. i won’t see, anymore, how he kicks that one chunk of snow all the way home, from bus stop to house, a 10-minute meander that has him winding and spinning and kicking and scooping and, yes, ykkh, licking that snow.

any day now, i won’t walk in his room to kiss him awake, only to find at the foot of his bed, an old cardboard box he’s made into a house for his little two rabbits, who he’s tucked into bed, maybe read them by flashlight a story, whispered their prayers, then kissed them goodnight.

any day now, he won’t fit on my hip, that perch of old bone that was built, i’m convinced, to hold up a child in tears, or in heartache, or, every once in a while, in deep cuddling mode.

any day now, his legs will get longer, his words will get less of a little-boy lisp. and the occasional lapse into pure make-believe will go poof, will vanish away, overnight.

there won’t be a bear with a name. we won’t set a place at the table for that wild-haired lion named leo. (a cat who insists, by the way, on rice chex topped with bananas, more milk, please; a diet eerily close to the one thing his trainer could eat–and does–morning, noon and most every night.)

any day now, he’ll be all gone, my sweet little boy.

he’ll be replaced by a model less likely, i’m supposing, to give me a rub on my back for no reason besides that he still loves the feel of my skin. he won’t want to climb in my bed and play 20 questions on saturday mornings. and i doubt he’ll hand me the phone and ask me to dial because all the numbers just mix him all up.

so, right now, and right here, i have every intention of cupping it all in the palm of my hand. like sweet and cool waters, there at the edge of the stream on a day that’s unbearably dry.

i’ll suck it all up, suck every last drop, before it slithers away, slips through my fingers and back to the stream, where it rushes away.

i won’t get it again. this water comes once, comes in a rush that at first feels too much, and too hard to swallow, even in gulps. but then as it goes, as it trickles away, down your wrists, down your arms, back to the stream, you feel, already, the parch in your throat.

of late, the pangs come often, come hard. i miss him already. i long for these days, and they’re not even gone yet.

it’s a trick of the brain, a trick of the heart. and it’s not just a trick for the mamas among us. all of us, each, every one, we know what it is to miss someone we love before they’re not here anymore.

i really don’t think i’ve some special equipment here in my brain, the gymnastic button that lets me leap forward in time, and somersault back. it’s all of us, i’m pretty sure, with that human capacity to long and to miss, before it’s the time.

it’s the thing, is it not, that churns deep in our soul, propels us to love and love deeper. to cherish. to know, in our blood, with the swirls of our fingertips even, that what’s in our midst is sacred, is holy, is never forever.

and so, i go through my day with one extra eye. it’s trained on the child growing before me. i reach out and grab when the moments are sweet, and then all the sweeter.

the boy with the bear. the boy who climbs, still, on my lap. takes my hand in a crowd, squeezes it tight. the boy who calls out my name in the night, and awakes curled in a ball in the morning, all flannel and cowboy pajamas, and rosy and toasty, and playing like a ’possum.

it is a hard thing in this world to know just how to ready a child for all that awaits, a planet of wars and digital overload. a world where too many children are bounding toward grown-up, skipping right over the parts that teach them tender is golden, is good, is–in my book–truly essential.

so i stick with the basics, with what i know best, and what i believe with all of my whole. and i let it all play in the slowest of slo-mo.

i relish the old cardboard box, and the chance to tuck in a bunny to bed. i aim for the winding way home. and a sweet little boy in no hurry to harden.

i’ll savor each drop of each day. and know, soon enough, i’ll be ever so thirsty. and my sweet little boy will be big. too big for my hip. but never, my heart. which grows right along with him.

if this old chair has brought me anything, it’s brought me a place to pour out my love affair with my little one. forgive me the days i get sappy. i can’t really help it. see, if nothing else, some day that child will have all these pages to pore over, to read once again how his mother, she loved him. not a bad thing to bequeath, so i’m penning it now, while it’s bright in my eyes. the other thing is that writing about him has made me savor him in ways that might escape me if i was only tangled up in his moments. to write is to step back, make sense, untangle, see clearly. feel the pang right there in the heart. and so it is, and so i write. and you, if you choose, if you care to, you read along.

do you have that gymnastics button in your brain, the one that makes you leap back and forth in time? the one that propels you to a deeper grasp of the fact that what’s before you really is precious, really does deserve your fullest attention? how does it work for you?

and oh, by the way, that ol’ lazy susan is spinning afresh. not quite spring. but fresh, none the less. give it a click.

transforming time

this week is holy, my calendar tells me, my church tells me. some wee small voice deep inside me tells me too. i don’t feel so holy of late, though. feel ragged and worn. tangled, too. like the branches that jut from my pine, the one whose trunk i stared up and into, trying to find, maybe, some sign of nesting begun.

the challenge this week, then, is to take time that feels ragged, feels spent, and see if maybe, just maybe, i can start to build holy.

perhaps, like mama bird, out collecting old string, and tatters of cloth, i can take little bits of each day. maybe even each hour, and start to weave something that feels like a soft place for my soul. my soul needs a nest, needs a roosting place. my soul needs somewhere to perch. somewhere to swell, feel full.

i walked myself into church yesterday. felt wholly alone. it wasn’t a church that whispers my name. it’s stone, piled on stone. but it’s not far from home. and it is holy week, so i thought i should be there.

i remembered the words of my mother, perhaps the lastingest words she’s ever uttered: don’t let the church get in the way of God. i gave that a try. i tried, really i did, to pay no attention to the girl next to me, a teen with tight pants and big furry boots, who kept checking her iphone for something. the time maybe. a text from a friend. i didn’t notice till later how her brother must have spent his palm sunday, shredding the palm into bits. leaving it there, in a heap on the floor, where someone not looking might step, might crush it into the slate.

instead, i listened to the story. i wept right along. i thought a lot about suffering. how the dominant metaphor here in my church is a God who suffered in ways no human should know. but i suppose there has always been solace that at least, no thanks to the dark inhuman hours of the passion of Jesus, we are not alone.

still, every year, when i listen, when i hear about thrashing and stripping and mocking, i wince, then i swallow back tears. more often than not, the tears spill anyway. i can’t hold them back. don’t want to. they sting. and shake me down deep.

i think, as i swipe at my wet messy cheeks, about unbearable sins, ones then, and ones now. i cannot stand, either, all the stories i read in the papers, the ones about women and children and men, all put to insufferable deaths, or just barely escaping. and living instead with the frames, endlessly looping, of the horrors that always can come.

it is a sobering start to a week in which we live it again, the betrayal, the trial, the slow march to death on a cross among sinners.

achingly, slowly, we live it again. in vigils that last for hours and hours, late nights in a church where the pews get harder and the air, always, gets thinner and staler, tougher to breathe, till you think you might wobble right down, or give up the ghost.

since i, like emily dickinson, of late, find my church more in the woods than the pews, i will do an odd dance this most holy week. i will step into the place of the candles and incense. i will hear all the stories again. i will kneel and wash the soles and the toes and the calluses, even, of a stranger. i will genuflect, and make the sign of the cross.

but i will try to make holy the hours that shroud all the church time. i will, for this one week especially, try to push back the things of the world that distract me, that pull me away from the point. and the whole heart of the matter.

i will, if i can, stop the worry about runs on the bank, and layoffs at work. i will try to forgive all the slights and cold shoulders. will, if i can, excuse the snapping of tongues, and the mists of unholiness that seep through the cracks in the door and the windows i’ve opened for air.

i will try, for starters this week, to listen for whispers of God all around me. i will look for the pure shafts of light, the ones breaking through branches.

i will collect, as much as i can, the ribbons of cloth and bits of stuffing from pillows. i will build, if i can, a fine nest. a place where my soul, once again, can roost, can give birth once again and again, to the thin-shelled belief that this time all around us–these hours, these minutes, these breaths–all are anointed, are holy.

are ours to inhale, if we just settle down and start breathing. again.

how and where does this holy week find you? i find solace in the partitioning of time, in the marking of days and weeks and seasons as holier, perhaps, than others. the challenge is to find holiness in the everyday. it is always the challenge. particularly, i find it now. how and where do you go to find a breath, a heartbeat, that you know is one that is sacred?

drumming my fingers for spring: the sequel

not to whine (which are the three surest indicators a whine is in the offing, the immediate offing), but they promised.

oh, sure, they said. snow melted by wednesday. warm winds aswirling. heck, i had visions of little spring things poking their sweet nubile necks out from under the insistently dripping-away ice crust.

i had visions of sweaters, and only sweaters. i thought boots would be shoved to the back of the closet. i thought i might be able to skip again–or at least ditch the old-lady shuffle that keeps me from breaking my neck, and my hip, or merely my spongy old wrist.

dang, i had visions of calling this dispatch, giddy. as in, i thought i would be.

but noooooooooooooo.

here it is, wednesday, all right. and out my window i see this: snow snow snow. not white snow, or not much of it anyway. but rather whole gobs and piles and tundras of gray snow. black snow. snow that has, sorry, worn out its welcome. be white, be fluffy. but do not loiter long past the due date.

don’t know about you, but it’s all gotten me a little bit grouchy. like once when i was little and someone promised the circus was coming and i could go, too. but then the day came and went and not even a whiff of an elephant swishing its tail did i get.

i know i’m the one who said i liked my winters the real way. the pioneer way. hard and fierce, and pounding right on my windows.

but that was way back in february, before my inner hopscotcher-and-jumproper had fully awakened. this here is march. and they promised, is all.

it’s just all a big tease, is the problem. the light whispers spring. the big papa cardinal’s out there singin’ his lungs out. and the weather maps over the weekend showed bright shining arrows pushing the cold right up to some canadian lumberjack camp, where at least they’ve got the beards for these things.

geez, someone even thought it’d be funny–hysterically funny, i’ll bet–to flip all the clocks forward, trick us into pretending, what, it was the third week in april. ha. some joke.

here it is four whole days later and i am still thinking its lunch time when really it’s time for the dinner to bubble away there on the stove.

so what if my children are slurping their soup at quarter till eight, and then rolling to bed, because the clock says so. and only because.

far as i know, i’m not the only one grumpy. even the sparrows, the ones outside my window, they’ve given it up. ditched the whole plan for that egg-hatching nest. they seem to be huddled instead under a dried grassy blanket. chattering their little bird teeths.

my cat apparently catches their drift. i open the door, the way i usually do, he looks bothered, darts me a glance. “you must be joking,” he apparently thinks, as he tucks his tail right back under his haunches and refuses to budge.

it is all rather hopeless.

i mean, what is the point of all those deep stirrings inside? the ones that want to break out the pink and the soft seafoamy green. the ones that drool for a fiddlehead plucked from the woods. or a fat stalk of asparagus. or a strawberry that oozes its shirt-staining juice down your chin and onto your so-called bosom.

i, for one, am employing desperate measures: i saw in the store, two bucks for a handful of daffodils, deeply imported indeed. i grabbed ’em. paid no mind to the fact that their overseas flight might add an inch to the size of my old carbon footprint.

i cheated as well in the produce department. snared me a fistful of spears, asparagus spears. so far, i’m holding off on the berries. i’ve no need for ones flown halfway around the world. from a place where the sun truly shines, to here where it’s all a big hoax. (and besides, they are hard as rock those faux fruits, stripped of whatever it is that gives them a right to their juice-through-a-straw-sucking name.)

oh, goodness. i’m so sorry to take up your time with all this here whining. perhaps like the groundhog i should return to my lair. or whatever it is you’d call an underground hide-out where the sun never shines. and when it does, it’s still cold as cold gets.

hmm, sounds like i’m due for spring break. too bad that too could prove to be rather wrenching. i’m staying put, while the rest of the world i’m pretty sure has flights to places that don’t mess with your head. places where spring is what it is. and not simply a season that teases and taunt.

sign below if you too are bothered by all this recalcitrant weather. the winds that won’t warm. the snow that won’t go. the ice that refuses to melt. sing your sad song below. and maybe we’ll find solace in each other’s deep undying misery. and maybe some of you folks who live in sensible places–places where warm is warm, and not maybe–perhaps you can blow us some promising weather.

boy school

it’s a class to which i’ve not been admitted. but i take notes. the tests will never be mine. but i keep watch from corners, wince when learning takes its lumps, and savor all the triumphs.
it’s boy school. and i think we might be up to some new level here, the 300s, maybe, the ones for upper classmen, even though the boy enrolled, the one up yonder trying to tie a knot before dashing to a train downtown last eve, is merely a high school freshman.
the headmaster, and chief instructor, is, no doubt, my firstborn’s father. there are, of course, visiting professors–uncles, teachers, men with roles to model. but mostly–and of late–it is one-on-one tutorial, and it might well last a lifetime.
it started, long long ago, with blocks and building towers. the little one i loved–now a manchild–sat for hours on the floor with his tower-loving papa. they stacked oblong blocks of maple as high as they could go before the whole thing toppled. the little one learned the intricacies of load and balance, and eventually, how to sweep his heart up off the floor when the tower finally crashed.
there was, for a semester that stretched across quite a string of springs and summers, baseball for beginners. that pitching thing never came too easy to the one who now dreams of being a philosophy professor.
his papa tried, oh, he tried. i can still hear the ball banging against the house in our teeny tiny city yard. can still see them out the window, in the mostly-empty lot next door, running bases, steering clear of the apricot tree sheared to only stump and sawed-off limb, smack dab in centerfield. that sorry stump had once bloomed, like real live inhale-able art right outside my window, but one odd afternoon it was attacked with saw and hatchet by the wild-haired lady who let the players play there, and gave them lemonade when the inning finally ended.
i watched as father and son became obsessed with collecting baseball cards. i was there when the banged-up rusty scarlet tin came home from the papa’s boyhood bedroom. i remember…
how the two of them sank deep into a world of names and numbers (some in print so small i could barely read it then, and that was before the old-lady glasses became essential to my getting dressed each day). how that child, and his dear best friends, could trade all day and night. how the numbers seemed to mean something. and how they knew them all, upside down and sideways. and how the man i married seemed to have some uncanny storehouse of knowledge i’d never known about. he remembered plays–you know, who threw to who, whose feet slid where, who swore, who was a sorry loser–from ancient times, but re-told them as if he’d just then seen them on the TV.
i shook my head, and kept right on wiping down the stove. or cleaning out the sink. or maybe even opting for a game of solitaire. bleary-eyed at all the ball talk.
ah, but now, now i’m listening in.
the lessons these days are like the peeling back of the genetic code. the lessons here are all about how to be a man. and i don’t mean some global sweep. not the politics of manhood. nor any sort of wretched macho diatribe. there’s no room for that in the raising of a thinking, feeling soul–at least i don’t think so. and if there is, i’ve closed my eyes and shut my ears for the imparting of such stuff.
what i’m talking here is far more charming. it is all the basics: how to hail a cab. how to stanch a nick while shaving. how to shine a pair of shoes (and mind you, the man i married was first described in adoring terms by my mother as “old shoe,” a phrase born perhaps of the gaping holes in his penny loafers, and the less-than-ironed shorts that had long lost their hem).
what color belt belongs with shoes of black, and shoes of brown. (these things don’t come intuitively with the gene pool here, i tell you, it involves some teaching.)
why, i’ve heard whole paragraphs on the navy blazer. and the essential nature of what i heard referred to as “the uniform,” and how once you had it assembled (preferably on hangers, not heaped on closet floor, i pipe in, my maternal contribution, in case anyone is listening), you could just about go anywhere, do anything, your growing heart desires.
if it sounds intensely sartorial, it is not. there is in this comprehensive course something so sweet, so loving, i know men who would weep at hearing of it.
i know men whose fathers loved them very much. but somehow they never got this all spelled out. and what was lost was not only a sense of how to get your socks on in the morning, but the very notion that along the mountain climb they had both guide and hand behind their back.
in the whole of parenting, there is occasional mention of teaching children how to ride a bike, or swing a bat, or mix a chocolate cake.
but this art of steeping a child in how to step into a civilized, grown-up world, it is often overlooked. it’s quite easy to miss.
sometimes, with all the shepherding and signing-up of children, the most essential thread of parenting–the teaching, day in and day out, for years and years and years, through every phase and tumble down, and every scraping off the floor–is simply barely given airtime.
but to miss it, don’t you think, is to wholly miss the point. and all the grace. and noble beauty.
one generation trying with all its might, and accumulated mistakes, to smooth the bumpy road for the next one up the pike.
if i were not the mother here, if i were not hearing bits i’ve never heard spelled out, i might, too, miss all this. i know, as the only girl among four brothers, i never heard such things. perhaps, a sister pays no heed in quite the way a mother studies how her boy becomes a man.
perhaps, too, it is in hearing all this acquired knowledge being passed in chapter and in verse, it rubs raw, just a bit, the fact that i’ve no girl to whom i can whisper all the things i know about trying to be a woman. geez, what to do with the little bit i know about mascara?
it is tender stuff, this transferring of time-tried truths. it melts my heart to watch the father of my firstborn care enough to shine the child’s shoes before his first high school dance (never mind that he got the polish all over the kitchen floor, or that he tried to do it without a cloth, and thus his pointer finger was black as night for a day or two).
i nearly wobble as i hear the ping-pong volleys late at night, punctuated by all the talk about what to look for in a college, and how one fine prof might just change your life.
it is at once heady and knee-buckling, this esoterica and plain old sidewalk smarts.
it humbles me to hear it. i wonder, did i have some deeply buried clue when i fell in love with him, that the man i married would so finely, keenly raise a son?
just last night, i watched the child shave without a nick. i peeked around the corner as he tried, and tried again, to knot his father’s tie. i tried not to sigh as he slipped on that navy blazer, became a man, grabbed his nearly-tattered tome, the odyssey, and bounded down the stairs, and out the door.
the train downtown–to meet his father for a worldly sort of lecture at a club where that blazer was expected–he nearly missed. in fact, he hurdled up the ramp with just a minute and a half till that hissing hulk lurched into the station.
that class, train catching on time, he’ll try again. a boy does not become a man without a few retakes along the route.
and, if he’s truly blessed, a teacher who wholly understands the art of knowing when to turn the page, and when to let the pupil learn the hard way.
trusting all the while that someday the student, by then a man at last, will be the sort who, in turn, as he once was taught, will impart his very best to some young boy who has no clue what to do with razors and blazers and all those manly mysteries.

have you watched a child–boy or girl–learn the ropes tied to adulthood? are you, like me, without a child of a gender that’s your own, so all that wisdom–most of it learned the hard way i assure you–has no place to go, no deposit box? do you remember being pulled aside and showed the little things that made you feel the world was a place you belonged, and just maybe could conquer?

somewhere, spring

it is elusive, this season that pulls and tugs on us, tells us it’s time to shed the woolen winter cloak, the pounds that have crept onto our laps, like children, who need to be nestled.
i’ve known for a while that it’s out there, teasing, taunting. i heard it in the birdsong one morning, as the snow was tumbling down. i laughed out loud, i did, the foolery of weather. thinking it can masquerade the turn of earth, the basking of our overpopulated island in the face of sun.
i can see it, too, in the white-blue light of march, beginning. i see it streaking in the windows, spilling on a bookshelf, shouting, “i am not the season you think i am.”
oh, never mind the ice, the snow.
it is out there, springtime is. it is contracting, deep beneath the icy-crusted soil, way beyond the stars where time ticks on, regardless of the swirling winds and piled-high precipitation.
the universe, yes, is deep in labor. spring is birthing, season churns from page to page. any week now, we’ll see the crowning of the springtime’s messy head, pushing through the cracks of winter finally stepping down, relenting.
if you look, hard enough, you can see it now.
on the tips of magnolia branches, where the velvet buds are clasped, in chilly prayer, awaiting one swift warm wind, and then, kapow, the whole of it, spring unbridled, will burst before our eyes.
you can spot it, if you watch the sparrows.
the ones i call my own are flitting in and out, already, of the little hole above my door, the one they call their home. the stoop is dumped with all the detritus of last year’s nesting fashion. this year, they seem to have a silken thread of royal blue hanging at their doorway.
the never-ending labors of the sparrows tickle me to no end. they chatter just outside my window, making quite a fuss, as she tells him, perhaps, to ditch the blue, go for something, hmm, a little softer on the eye.
i was in the woods the other day. squishing at every step. i was searching for those bravest wisps of woodsy carpet, the snowdrops, or the lime-green tight-wound clocksprings of the fiddlehead, a fern whose neck, perhaps, might be feeling pinched from all the hunching in a ball, deep beneath the loamy dappled floor, where all the winter’s work is done in dark seclusion.
there was not a tender shoot of promise to be found.
which made me think, of course. made me think how so much of life is just beyond our senses. but does that make it one breath less real, or only serve to exercise that muscle called Believing?
we can’t hear the words of those we’ve loved and lost, but does that mean they are no longer pulsing through our every blessed hour? we can’t see the unfolding of the dream we’re hoping for, but how do we know when the one who’ll make it happen is reaching for the telephone, or lining up the pieces to make the chessboard capture?
what if we learn–as the spinning of the earth and sun tries to teach, again and again–to trust that which we cannot see or hear? not yet, at least.
what if we take our cues in subtle ways–change of light, the lilt in cardinal’s morning song, barest wisp of green poking through the sodden gritty soil–and succumb to tug and pull of time?
what if, even when the cold winds blow in march, we believe that spring soon will be delivered?
it is, again, all about that thing called faith.
do we stalk the woods in search of spring, and walk out empty-hearted, or do we strip off our mittens, push back our hoods, and let the vernal-tipping sunlight sink deep into our marrow?

do you believe it’s coming? what signs have stirred you into knowing something fine is just around the corner? are you going batty? is the seasonal affective disorder dragging you deep down into the muck of the winter that will not take the hint, pack its bags and leave?