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

Month: February, 2010

that was fast

and there it was.

like that.

in yesterday’s pile of mail. just lying there, that short string of words, taunting me, teasing me, jolting me into the countdown of truth.

class of 2011. g-g-graduation party?

oh my God, i gasped.

now, i’d done that math. long long ago. maybe when still in the womb, in line with all my other fascinations with numbers (i tend to be moored by arithmetic, by adding, subtracting, defining my life in crisp-lined equations), i likely leapt forward in time, determined the points in my unborn’s unfurling story, first uttered the short string of digits, the 2 and the 0 and the pert pair of 1s. barely made sense, that sum of indivisible, indiscernible, parts.

for a good long while, through preschool and early-on years, through multiplication tables and kickball and the odd social fumblings of middle school, it’s just a blurry far-off posting there on the distant horizon, an odd combination you are called to conjure once in a while.

ah, but once your firstborn’s in high school, of course, they fling that digital string at you page after page, form after form, invoice after invoice. why it becomes a part of your child’s identity. he is 2011xxxx in their books.

and i suppose, vaguely, subliminally, ever-rising in consciousness, i’ve started to realize the punch in those numbers.

they are not merely computer-generated ink spurts. they whisper, ever louder, the undeniable truth: kid’s leaving, and here’s the date of departure.


oh, i’ve started to feel the rumblings. all this talk about college. all this mail that comes day after day. nice mail, fine mail, mail from places that want to harbor my boy.

but graduation party?

someone grab me a stool.

are we r-r-ready for that?

so there i stood in that way that we sometimes do, trying to get my eyeballs to clear out the fuzz, make sure i was seeing this right, not being fooled by some optical wizardry. downright insisted the brain part of the reading department kick into gear, try wrapping its neurons around the letters before me, make some sense of the fast-forward illusion.

hmm, seems to be not a ruse but the real, actual fact. complete with a date, and a comma besides.

coulda logged it onto the calendar. if i had one. for 2011, for cryin’ out loud. geez, i’m just breakin’ in this one, the one with the 0 at the end, instead of two 0s, a fine pair of eyeballs, peering out from the spot in the middle.

while i was busy, um, swallowing all this numerical befuddlement, the little one ran to my side. read round my elbow.

piped up, matter-of-factly, “this is how it will be, dad at work. just you and me.”


so it might be.

(lord knows, it’s not that i have even a wisp of a twinge at the notion of going along, just me and the little one, it’s just the hollowness of a four-bedroom house in which some of the beds never are mussed. and the towels in the bathroom….oh, never mind…)

so, yes, we will spend the next 15 months seeing that date–june 5, 2011–begin to flash along the roadside like some neon number that refuses to run out of wattage, blinking brighter and louder till it takes over the screen.

and so it goes as we pass through this life, aiming toward targets once miles and eons away, then inching closer, somehow getting so close we can make out the zigs and the crags of the outline. count the hairs on its head.

more often than not, we are propped up along the way, made to adjust to that thing on the far-off horizon.

so i’ve been told, when it comes to this college thing: “oh you’ll be ready, all right. your kid will make you so crazy you’ll cannonball him right out the door. toss the trunks onto the sidewalk, plunking behind him.”

hmm. not yet.

to this day, at nearly the midpoint of second semester junior year, that college-bound kid remains, solidly, squarely, among the most delightful lights in my day, he charms me. entertains me. teaches me, too. he makes me laugh so hard i swear i’ll embarrass myself one of these outbursts. says things that keep me awake thinking at night, not because they’re disturbing, but because they hold so much truth, so much wisdom, and like marrow of bone, i need to suck on it all a good long while to extract every speck of its essence.

so, no, not yet. i am not remotely ready.

and thus, the words on the slip of paper wholly stunned me, stopped me.

i felt the lightning bolt of truth shake through my body, down my arms, into my wrists, onto the tips of my fingers.

and there was the little one, right by my side. taking it all matter-of-factly.

life has a knack for sneaking up on you. and here, at this point on the map, i am noticing all around me, seeing the landscape blur out the window.

we seem to have picked up speed somewhere along here. not long ago, we struggled to learn to pedal a bike, swing a bat, spend the whole night in a tent despite the raccoon that scratched at the flap.

and, kaboom, here we are, getting a notice, high school graduation party. june 5, 2011. mark it, please, on the calendar.


that was fast.

what sorts of chapters have crept up on you lately? how did it feel once you arrived? what pangs do you still harbor? or, are you, like me, still peering at that post down the way, teetering bravely, hoping not to topple?

the plate that waits

i grew up with one.

pretty much it’s the balm on the far end of harried days. it’s what happens when you start to lose the dinner hour. when trains run late, or deadlines detonate the time clock that was your chopped-seared-and-plated two-course hope. when coaches call a practice smack dab at chow time. when sweaty gyms take the place of civilized dining chambers.

it’s the plate that waits, gosh darn it, that stands up to any threat to steal away that modicum of grace, of communion, at the end of a long day.

it’s the ceramic plane, piled with foodstuffs, that tells you, worry not, we bend here to what you need. we won’t leave you to fend alone in the cold dark kitchen. we’ll extend the dinner hour, late as you need it to be.

in this house, you will be fed, and fed as if you were right here among us at the noisy dinner table. we did not forget you, as we piled high the plates, put out the napkins, clasped hands in simple ad-hoc prayer.

it’s the late-plate, all right, a dish i long ago came to know, came to count on.

for weeks on end, way back in high school, i remember coming in the house, soggy wet from hours in the pool, and knowing where to look, under the stove light, the one that burned late into the night, shining spotlight on a plate of sensible sustenance, my mother’s forte, my mother’s gift to me.

i learned, as so many do, at the hand of my mama. learned what it feels like to be fed, to sit down hours after all the others, sink your fork into a baked potato, slice a chop, impale a pea, because whoever did the dishing up that night didn’t fail to think of you. to want to feed you. to leave a warmed-up calling card.

and so now, it’s my turn. i’m the mama of a boy who just this week has set his oars in the water, took up crew, a lovely sport, a sport that sets you sailing down smooth channels, a sport that makes you hear a soundtrack in your head, some english sort of rowing melody, chariots of fire, perhaps, phillip glass (i know the latter because i hear the dissonance pounding through the speakers as the fledgling rower mimics all the pulling through the waves, only on dry land, down in the basement, where so far at least, it’s a space without a current).

seems the crew team strokes daily till 8 bells, night bells, and so the sweating mass of muscle and newfound sport, bounds through the door near half past that hour, and finds i’ve left for him a circle of sustenance, just like my mama did for me.

the age-old rite continues: i’ll leave you a plate; dinner will be waiting; it’ll be under foil, in the oven, on the stovetop, in the fridge.

somewhere, you who i love, who i tend body and soul, there will be fuel for the end of your day. food to fill you.

and, as it’s always been in these kitchen matters, there will be a good measure of love stirred in, for there is rarely a recipe worth its cups and measures that does not behold an equal mix of passion.

we cook to love, many of us. even if we don’t always love to cook.

it is, more than most domestic arts, a telegraph of pure affection. one that stands a chance of registering as such. can’t say my heart is swooning as i dust the silt off the bedside table in my messy boy’s room, or as i wipe down the toilet seat of boys who, well, must not pay close attention to the target.

but in leaving a simple plate of sauteed apple slices, sprinkled with cinnamon, dried cranberries, bathed in just a dab of butter, a sausage grilled, sweet potato bursting earthy sunset-orange, i am whispering in that tall boy’s ear. saying, you deserve more than cold deli turkey, more than spoon of peanut butter, more than power bar.

shining there, under the 40-watt bulb that illuminates the stovetop, that plate says clearly: welcome home. sweet heart, day’s not done till you are here among us. till you’re fed, sated, full again.

day’s not done till we’ve met you with the truth that here, on our watch, you will always be tended to. we won’t send you off to bed, wanting.

not for anything.

what messages do you signal from your stovetop? or do you tap out lovenotes in other keys?

out my window, once again

i heard the house exhale the other morning, a deep resounding sigh.

i listened close. heard an echo. realized it was my soul, doing the same.

there was no other sound anywhere in this old house. i was, bound by snow and drifts, home for one sweet day. home, alone.

home with pipes that gurgle now and then. home with wind, humming through the window cracks. home with flocks of cardinals, grace wrapped in scarlet feathers.

i realized, feeling the deep warm wrap, feeling holiness seep into my pounding chest, i realized what i’ve known for years now: tiptoeing through this house, dreaming out its windows, catching light and wing and flight, is the marrow in my bones, the illumination in my soul.

all at once, as the teakettle turned up its whiny song, as i listened to the clock tick-tock, watched the snowflakes tumble down and down, i diagnosed what’s been wrong all these last few months, what’s made me cranky, feel like pent-up steam about to burst: i’ve been home sick. away-from-home sick.

oh, i race in each night, just round dinner time. sort the mail, dump the junk. eyeball someone’s homework. check the fridge, see the milk is gone, race out to the store, alone with all the other mamas who wrap up errands when the clock strikes ten–just in time to miss the nightly news.

i’m up at half past five, racing once again, packing lunch, stirring oats, sometimes treading on my mill (as if i need a power cord to do that never-ending exercise).

oh, yes, i hang my coat here. sleep in a bed here. cook and clean. but what’s been missing all these months is something so essential: i breathe from the bottom of my soul here, when i’m alone, when i’m in rhythm with the light and wind and birdsong. when i’m here to dash to the rescue of a broken stem, a worm that’s drowning in a puddle.

don’t laugh. it’s deeply true.

i am at once two souls: one who dearly loves the women of my workworld (and a few of the men as well), but one who lives and breathes for the solitary world, the grace-filled homescape that speaks to me as prayer.

i felt the slowing-down seep deep the other snowy day. i felt the pilot light of faith spark a higher flame. why, i even had the apple sliced, laid out in pinwheels, when the little one bound in the door.

isn’t that a higher grace than water-cooler chatter?

some days maybe not. some days there are wounds to heal beyond these walls.

but all in all, it’s here at home where i am filled with deep, still grace.

staring out my kitchen window, watching snowflakes pile high, i caught that papa cardinal pecking at the few last berries on a bush. i heard the breath whoosh out of me, so startled by his scarlet red, so close.

as the quiet wrapped around me, and i soaked in his coat of bishop red, i felt certain i had tripped upon the cure to all that’s ailed me.

i felt home, again.

i know, i know. last week i wrote of the joys of being surrounded by a circle of wise women at work. such is the yin and yang of life. all i know is i breathe best when i am home, and with all my heart i wish i could stay here……

why do you love to be in your house? or, conversely, what do you absorb from the busy world beyond your walls?

she might not happen by here today, but doesn’t matter. i am sending birthday love to one of the finest hearts and minds and souls i know. my beloved crd, a brilliant light in my life and so many others’. and not just when the halo comes from a ring of birthday candles……xoxox

the company of women

as much as i kicked and screamed and cried when told i would be leaving my little old french pine table, and the turn-of-the-century lithographs of little bo peep and her sheep that grace the walls here in this once-garage.

as much as i still ache for the hours of being alone here in this old house, of starting a slow-cooked stew, or tossing in a load of darks when the laundry basket groans under the immensity of all the piled-up sweat and stain that comes from three boy bodies.

as much as i miss looking out the window, catching shifting shadows, watching birds pop worms into each other’s mouths, marking seasons come and go.

as much as all that, i have discovered for the first time in a long time that rare gift of slipping into a circle in which the inhabitants all hold each other up; not only understand each other’s lives, but in varying shades and combinations live that very life.

at the place where i type three days a week, we have, all of us, found ourselves plonked into pre-assigned seats, complete with chair, drawers and computer.

oddly, curiously, the cluster of four part-time working mamas are assigned to desks across the great divide from nearly all the others. right off, we felt sequestered, whispered to ourselves that we’d been banished to some siberia.

we call our cove of desks “the cul-de-sac,” and while we hear the chatter from beyond the great divide, hear the peals of laughter from the jokes they seem to share, watch them come and go to lunch, pass bonbons as well as bon mots, we’ve come to not mind, really.

you see, in between the typing and the phone calls, we’ve begun to weave together the interstitia of our lives.

we know who was up at 3 rocking her baby, and never did get back to sleep (while the baby’s father, mind you, snoozed the night away). we see how the tired one now sits listing in her chair, wearing washed-out pallor with her sharp black boots and sweater, in the phosphorescent glow of the grey-green office light. and, each one of us having been there once upon a time, we all but race to her side, prop her up with dark chocolate and deep sighs.

we all gasp, collectively, when the call comes in from the school nurse, and one of our little ones has succumbed to a head bump, complete with spurting blood. and stitches, suddenly, are the order of the day. and we put our heads together, counsel on the virtues of pediatric plastic surgeon versus run-of-the-mill ER doc, when it comes to sewing thick black thread through the gash in that once-flawless. still perfect, kindergarten face, the one we all know from the pictures that ring his mommy’s desk.

we laugh, or else we’ll cry we decided, when lamenting the heartache that will come when the one whose husband lost his job has to take on full-time work, leaving home a baby not yet six months old, because the home economics hold no room for only working three days, no room for two extra days a week cradling that baby whose smiles she can’t bear to miss. for even one hour, let alone the extra 16.5 she’ll have to lose. (we have done the math, down to the minute, racking our brains to shave a half an hour here or there.)

and sometimes, in between the triumph of a masterfully crafted sentence and the groans of a deadline we can’t meet, the snippets of conversation, the truths exchanged, are so truthful, and so stirring, i find myself tossing them round and round my head for days after they are uttered.

just this week for instance, or maybe it was last week (the days all blur, i tell you), i’d been recounting some homefront frustration, the barely-capped angst with which i met the morning’s revelation that a winter coat was, um, left across town the night before, in a gymnasium, now surely locked, where i would have to knock in vain (and wintry cold) in distant hope of retrieving said essential garment.

somehow, i can’t remember quite the line of questioning, i looked up and asked the sleepless one, who has a girl of four besides the baby, if she had ever raised her voice at that blessed child, the four-year-old. ever?

she paused, thought for a good while, sheepishly smiled, then answered, “no, i don’t think i ever have.”

quickly, she blamed it on her particular four-year-old. “she’s sooo good,” said the mama, brushing off any credit for this stunning revelation.

i sat stunned, all right. still do, pretty much.

ever since, i’ve been walking through my waking hours, especially here at home, reaching for her placid heights. i am channeling, with all my might, her very gentleness, her calm.

“if she can do it–not raise her voice in four whole years–i can try to get through just one morning’s rush out the door and off to school without the knee-jerk rise in decibels, the clipped syllables, the huff and puff that comes from hurry and the dread of missing that old school bus.”

i repeat it like a mantra, hour after hour.

and as the days and weeks go by, i’m coming to realize how very much i carry home the company of splendid women who fill my downtown days.

i find that not only do they bring me solace in the typing place, but here at home, i’m inspired too. trying to live up to the good grace of the one who does not yell, the smarts, the dead-pan funny of each and every one.

i’ve found, once again in my most blessed life, that being surrounded by a phalanx of smart strong women is, of all the prescriptions i know, among the surest for getting through the bumps, the curves and full-out tailspins that come at any turn.

tell me about the company of women (or men) who are your saving grace….