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

Month: January, 2010

study hall

it’s rare in this house for both boys to be on the same page.

one is paying attention to grade points and the calculus of getting into college, the other struggles every day to turn that loopy shoelace into some sort of tangle to hold him all day long.

one reads nabokov and sartre, philosophers and existentialists. the other asks each morning if i can help him fold the sports page, where he’ll inhale the itty-bitty numbers, the rise and fall of grown-up men who bang around a ball.

and so, the other evening as i looked up from washing dishes, i saw two boys at work, two boys with snacks and pages open wide, two boys whose worlds had momentarily aligned.

mind you, when you accidentally give birth eight years apart, when you did not set out to span a half a decade with your offspring, it is a fundamental truth of your wobbly existence that you find you live not in instant replay, with one child sliding out of diapers as the other storms the scene, but rather you dwell in time delay.

whole chapters start and end between boys 1 and 2. one has journeyed off to summer camp, barely sent a single postcard home, while the other holds your hand and toddles up to bed. one has started shaving while the other learns to squeeze the toothpaste on the brush without it splurting in the sink.

one sits at dinner talking emerson and frost, the other squirms and tries to feed the meatball to the cat.

only now, eight years into this experiment in dual children, are we discovering the joy of occasionally, rarely, unpredictably, dancing cheek-to-cheek.

or at least hearing strains of the same music.

it’s new enough around here that still it takes our breath away, when the little one for instance pipes in with his opinion on which college his brother might consider. or, adds a cogent thought to a discussion about iraq.

and vice versa, it is stunning for the bookish older one to weigh in on some football matchup, or to lament a limping quarterback.

who knew they ever tuned in to each other’s world? apparently, they’re listening.

and just as they randomly begin to bump into each other’s orbit, we look toward the summer after next, and realize once again we’ll be a dinner table of only three.

which makes these days ones to milk for all they’re worth.

we’ve finally got a pair of bookends who line up on a single shelf. one’s reaching beyond the elementary, the other’s wise enough to find a common ground. (and occasionally haul the little one on his lap for a boa-constrictor squeeze.)

in the days and weeks and months ahead, i’ll not tire of the moments when i catch the pas de deux of brothers deep at work discovering the joy of sharing the same page.

in fact, i’m standing ready with the apples and the pretzels to fuel their kitchen study hall.

where, with any blessed luck, they’ll look up from homework page to see a fellow traveler they’ll choose to spend their whole lives long coming home to.

or at least dialing long-distance.

i almost ditched this in midstream, but then decided to keep on writing. no universal theme here, except perhaps the joy of discovering a sibling is not merely someone who sits across the kitchen table a couple times a day, but rather a someone whose particular gene pool makes for soulful kinship. when did you discover the many gifts of a someone who shared your own last name?

bottoms in the air

it wasn’t long ago, was it, that i was the mama, leaning in, looking into the sleeping place of my little one?

it wasn’t long ago, i swear, that i was the mama whose chest heaved a heart-filled sigh, that whirl of thanks for peace at last, peace short-lived, that rush of knock-me-over, make-me-wobbly love, that is the motherlove of a mama looking down on her restful, dreaming child.

bliss be ours, the ones with babies napping.

the baby isn’t mine this time. she’s my ella girl. my faraway love, the one i watch grow up through pictures, frames that sometimes nearly burst through my computer screen they are so filled with the lifeforce that is ella.

ella’s mama sent me this just the other day, and at once i was there, leaning over the rails of the crib my boys never once took to.

and yet, in the same swirl and whirl of heart and breath, it made me realize my days of leaning in, of breathing, catching breath while the baby sleeps, those days are gone for me……

and it made my chest pound hard, and heaviness drop down around my shoulders.

how swift the timeline sweeps. how soon we’ve made it past the days we thought would never end, the chasing and the diapers and the naps that won’t be taken, and the endless and sometimes sisyphean upside-down and inside-out repetition of the tasks.

but then, suddenly–and much beyond nearly all my peers, the ones who now show me pictures of their grandbabies, while i tend to spelling lists and the tying of shoelaces–i find i’ve passed the days i dreamed of. the days so sweet. so long and short at once.

i am now one rung out on the circle of new life. i stand behind the mamas young and fumbling. the ones trying to sort it out, make sense. the ones who stumble, cry, and wring their hands.

i am the silver-haired auntie, even if that hair is rumpled, wild, and most often unruly.

i’m caught short, my breath is too, by the finding out that life has passed in frames i can’t re-spool in real time.

from now on, the bottoms in the air, and the up and down of dozing babies’ chests, will be not ones that are mine to chase, to scrub, to know of every bump and rash.

i am slipping from that rare illuminated spot on the centerstage of life, the one where we move so fast we sometimes miss the poetry.

here i stand now, looking in on the ones who look in on their sleeping babes.

and from here, though, i feel the full force of the literature of life, as the chapters of my past come swirling at me, and in the distance that’s now mine, i discover stanzas and truths that once escaped me as i strained to merely catch my breath.

this time, looking in on the ones who look in, i am bathed in the tender wholeness of it all. and for that, despite the twinge and ache of grasping back through time, i know that i am blessed for having been there.

God bless the mamas, full of heart and wonder, as they strain to catch their breath.

a wee muse on moving on. as all around me this week i was filled with news of babies born, and babies reaching milestones, or simply snapshots of babes doing what they do so finely. and all of it made me miss those days, so long and not so long ago……

do you ache sometimes for the days, the hours, the moments, that have slipped away?

a bit of housekeeping: i’ve been washed over with a sense lately that i might need to pause my typing here sometime soon. i feel i’ve said plenty, and it might be time for quiet. i’m torn, of course. but this table has always honored seasons, and i am wondering if the season of quiet is upon me……

finally, a most blessed happy birthday to the mother of the bride out arizona way…..pjv, here’s to you, darlin. xoxoxo

p.s. i have come back to the table to take extra care of my most blessed little one. i have shrunken the snapshot above and blurred the edges, so you still might feel a touch of the innocence, the pure pang of heart i felt as i peeked in on her napping, but she is wrapped, i hope, in a blanket of safety. i want nothing less for my sweet one and those in whose arms she is cradled.

little left but prayer

ever since the news swept out, ever since we heard the word that the earth convulsed and heaved and paid no mind to bodies in the way, i’ve found it hard to be inside my house, safe and warm, unshattered.

found it hard to sit beside my little one, he in warm pajamas, nibbling on banana, sipping milk, sitting on a stool that had no splinters, that was smooth and whole, warm air swirling all around us, the night’s cold breath blocked by glass and wall and roof.

couldn’t fathom, though we tried, he and i together, how not so far away really there were children crying, couldn’t find their mamas or their papas, maybe. couldn’t find a brother or a sister, or the family dog, the one who always curled beside them when the night came on the island.

haiti, suddenly, isn’t so far away, although the breadth and depth of the destruction in the wake of the once-in-200-years quaking of the earth is so incomprehensible.

i find myself, once again, riveted by tragedy on this small whirling globe.

this one feels so close to home. this one makes me shudder in my warmth, my comfort, my going to sleep knowing my boys are safe.

how can one people be so pummeled? not only now, but always.

how can some of us escape again and again? how can some of us think the car nearly out of gas on a frigid morning is a big fat deal? how can some of us be blessed to worry only that our children might not find the answers on exams?

we’ve been praying, my boys and i, the little we can do. we’ve been imagining who each prayer was prayed for. we imagine a child, or a grownup, we imagine a whole scenario, and then we pray a prayer just for that one someone we’ve imagined.

we paint pictures with our words, try to make the prayer concrete, explicit, particular, for the prayer to come alive….

“for a little boy, who is covered in dust, whose arm is broken, who cannot find his mama.”

“for all the children who are crying, and whose cries aren’t heard.”

“for the little one who is hungry, who hasn’t found her way to a slice of bread, to fruit.”

“for the ones who sit beside the rubble, waiting, not giving up hope, listening for whimpers, now fading, three days later when chances slip to nearly less than none.”

it’s all we can do, imagine prayer. construct biography and hold it in our arms, in the arms of our prayer, in our hearts that know no bounds.

we can’t, most of us, board a plane, bandage wounds, salve the brokenness. but we can stay with the mission. we can hold it day after day, hour after hour, night after night, in prayer.

and so we pray. and so we teach our children. we tell them stories. we show them how we pray. we know they listen. they’re not too young, not at all, to start to figure out how very blessed they are. how once again, they’ve escaped. but not far away there is no escaping, and thus we are all left to pray and pray some more.

this day i pray. for the ones who wail in pain alone. for the ones who are lost. who can’t find their way. who can’t find the ones they love. not one of them, i hear again and again on the news reports that crackle in from the broken island.
this day i pray and i don’t stop. there is little left but prayer for those of us who cannot rest when the world’s in pain, deep pain, inexplicable pain. pain they had no idea was just around the bend. about to swallow them whole.

carry on, the litany unspools……


one of us had worked herself into such a froth of worry that a pounding headache had taken hostage her noggin. moved right in beneath her skullbones and hammered away for days and nights on end.

seems it was a worry headache (either that or i’m allergic to snow). worried about the tall fellow, the one who lives here, who was off wandering the desert, looking skyward, in the land they call “the vegas of the desert.” the arabian desert. far off dubai.

oh, there was all the flying back and forth. apparently, the world no longer travels in sailing ships, the kind that bounce upon the waves. we go for big metal tubes, with wings, we climb in and confound gravity, bump above the clouds.

these days, besides the litanies of prayer for gravity to hold on tight, not give out, not surrender its airborne cargo, we’ve all sorts of crazy other things to pray about. hope no one climbs aboard with powdery explosives in his undies, for cryin’ out loud.

so, yes, all those worries climbed aboard, settled in, made themselves most at home inside my head, and set me throbbing for days and days on end.

which is a long-winded way of saying we had our eyes wholly set on the little box on the calendar that said the fellow from the desert was, at last, after nine long days that stretched way back before the new year, coming home, just last night.

in fact, the eve before his homebound plane even rumbled down the runway, we got down to the business of welcoming, called a meeting of the full committee.

made signs, a whole sheaf. taped ’em to every nook and cranny we could find. strung streamers far and wide, strung a veritable web, a trap for getting here to there, anywhere that involved the front hall and doorway. poor children were on their knees, shimmying to the stairs. had to come in from school the round-about way, trudging through the snow, clomping through the garden path that runs beside the house, climbing in the back door where no crepe-paper traps had yet been set.

but, oh, that tall fellow was being welcomed verily.

while we waited for the plane to zoom in beneath the blizzard clouds, i set about the business of cooking up a welcome feast.

my mama, who’d early in the day decided no one ought be out upon the icy roads, showed up anyway, round noon. carried in her little cooler, filled with all the fixings of the fellow’s favorite middle-of-the-winter dinner, a chicken, rice and mushroom concoction that is pure comfort food, and named, in honor of the cook, chicken rice grammy.

at last the phone rang. he’d landed.

and like that the headache started lifting.

miracle cure for worry: just land the plane in one piece, and hear the voice of the one you love without the crackle that comes while overseas.

oh, it was sweet all right. when the cab pulled up, and all three of us–the ones he’d left at home–nearly leapt out the door, into the blowing snow in our holey socks. we hugged him so tight, it’s notable that he didn’t topple down.

and now, fed and rested, he is home.

as i type i hear the sweet sounds that are as much the heartbeat of this house as the sputters from the furnace and the creaks of all the floorboards. i hear him clearing his throat in that way he does. i hear his fingers at the keyboard, a staccato that is his and his alone. i could tell you who was typing five rooms away, because each one of us has a signature tap-tap-tap it seems. and i know his.

i’d thought this meander might be a meditation on coming home. how there’s nothing like the feel of your own sheets, the lump in that same old spot on the mattress, the one there before you left and still there upon return.

instead, it’s mostly a postcard to those who know and love the tall one, who like me held their breath the whole nine days. who tracked his flight, his comings and his goings. his stories splashed across the news.

our world was suspended for those days, while we hoped and prayed that he’d come home. while i, for one, sent up prayers each morning, noon, and night. and a hundred thousand times between.

the world is right again. there is no missing piece in our midst. all four chairs at the table are filled again. the laundry’s piled high, but i don’t mind. the juice glass is left on the counter. the toothpaste is smeared beside the sink.

but after nine days so far away the phone lines from here to there wouldn’t reach, i am quite content to wash an extra glass or two, wipe down the bathroom sink. and smooth the sheets from where he slept.

he’s home, and that’s the only thing that matters.

among the dozens of signs we made with construction paper and markers, the one above is the one that melted me the most. my little scribbler made it, words that if you knew him would melt you through and through. he is always, always pining for a donut, that little one, and so, when i looked down on his drawing pad, and saw the love poem up above, “love you more than donuts,” with a carefully drawn and sprinkled ring of dough, well, i knew that was the sign that belonged in front of all the rest, taped to the front door, the first thing our desert traveler would lay his eyes on upon return to the house that loves him like no other…

no questions today, just a simple sigh of relief and joy. and now i am scurrying off to spend some time with the tall, gentle giant in our lives.

may you too cherish the ones with whom you spend your blessed holy hours.

once again…

there is a crispness to this new year, to any new year, that like a newly laundered bedsheet, pulled tight around the corner of the bed, invites us in, to fling our tired selves upon its smoothed-out softness, to refresh, shake off the cobwebs, give it yet another try.

the new year, the dawn of january’s oneness, is clean, unscratched. like those new white p.f. flyers you got when you were six, the ones in which you tried to only tiptoe for a good few minutes, see how long you could make it before you left a smudge of dirt, a scrape upon the rubber bottoms. until you forgot, started running. dove in hard and muddy, those once new shoes.

and so it is with the turning of the calendar, the clicking up of yet another year, a shiny digit added to the nameplate that sits upon the desk in the department of the year.

in my geometry, it’s yet another spiral–not a circle to which we’re forever confined. we round the bend, see how sights have shifted, what’s there we’ve never seen before.

i’m not so much for resolutions, would rather merely keep up the climb. take one moment’s tender triumphs, another moment’s sorrows, the joys, the disappointments, call them, “oh, well…life.”

i am wholly and fully awake to the truth that every year brings unexpected twists, brings heartache of sometimes immeasurable proportion. and so i’m braced. always half holding my breath, i do admit.

for this one unscuffed morning, though, i might stoke my january self with the delight of scribbling one short list, a list worthy of concentrated effort at one point or another as the year unfolds.

and so, in the spirit of that freshly laundered, unwrinkled bedsheet, i’ll hope to encounter these few holy triumphs:

i’d not mind more gatherings at my table, dinners long and animated, breakfasts that somehow spread all the way till darkness steals away the shadows. till we look up and realize we’ve spent the whole long day shifting from the table to the kitchen to the couch and back again to the table.

i look forward to the moments when someone launches into announcement with the preamble, “good news!” words that always spark my ever-eager heart.

i’ll delight, perhaps, in spying on a nest of baby birds, and absorbing all there is to learn from the mama bird who flies in worms, who withstands of the heartache of the one wee thing who falls from that nest, doesn’t make it. for i know the arithmetic of nests and it is sobering.

i’ll await the sound of rain pit-a-patting on my windows.

and the holiness of candles, wherever they burn. church or table, in particular.

i’ll hope for a long walk in the woods. hearing the crunch of leaves beneath my soles, feeling the expansion of my lungs and the pounding of my heart, besides. dodging in and out of dappled forest light.

i will savor the days when all the boys i love are falling asleep in the same darkened house. when i needn’t worry because one of us is far away, too too far away.

i can’t wait to hear the tales of my ella-bella-beautiful, the little little girl growing up too far away. i hope i’m by her side when she turns one, when a cupcake and single candle is more than plenty for those chubby little hands and the bright and shining eyes.

i look forward to one fat red tomato, one whose juice runs down my chin. and is sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh-cracked tellicherry pepper.

i hope and pray this year brings me the chance to sit outside just after dawn, listening to morning song and wind blowing through the branches.

i await the end of day some day when my shoulders ache from digging all day long, from hauling rocks, cutting limbs, learning once again that the best tools i own are the ones i was born with.

i look forward to a great read, wherever i stumble upon it. and along with that i hold my breath hoping for the moments, holy ones indeed, when i am listening to the plaintalk of an ordinary someone and out pours poetry and once again i am stunned at the power of the human mind and its capacity for story and storytelling.

i count on this year to bring me long walks with the boys i love, the tall one with the big big ideas, the little one who every time takes my hand in winter to keep me from falling on the ice, his tenderness and caretaking always just beneath the surface of his 8-year-old busy busy self.

i’ll leave it there–for now…and make a wish for all of us to find blessing in the days ahead, and strength to stride the potholes. happy blessed new year, indeed.

carry on, friends. what would be the moments you await and hope for?