pull up a chair

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

Month: December, 2010

ticking toward the new

the sky has sprung a leak here in my corner of the globe this morn. thunder clouds are clapping, rumbling. lightning interrupts the percussive roar with its cymbal crash and sparks.

what had been winter white is now a dreary soggy shade of gray. the branches of the trees drip fat-walled tears. it’s a sad scene out there, like cheeks of little children (or their mamas) after a good long cry.

but perhaps it’s the world’s way of washing out the old, making way for new.

for new is, if you wish hard enough, what the night will bring. the page of the calendar turns, the 12 turns into 1. a new beginning. another chance. fresh start.

an incubator full of hopes and dreams, they’ll hatch if we are blessed, if we do our share. don’t sit back and wait for magic.

that’s not how new happens. that’s only how it is in fairy tales and science fiction.

we make new when we dig down deep, resolve to do it different. be gentle, not harsh. listen, not close the door. go out, not curl up inside.

as the whole globe gathers up the messiness of the year that’s left behind, we get–at least on paper–a chance to try again.

isn’t that the miracle behind the spiraling of time? we come around again to a place we’ve never been? we muster what it takes to climb again? to look more closely this time? to take solid steps? to sit and smell the pine, as we move higher on the mountain?

those are questions, all of them, because we’ve not yet mastered the art of climbing, the simple art of one foot in front of the other.

and so, the benevolence that is yet-another-chance is that we’ve built these constructs that lay before us the illusion, the hope, that this time ‘round we might come closer to getting it right.

that’s what fills our lungs in these hours toward the countdown. we tingle with the possibility that this stint, this shift, might be the one where we put aside the things that hold us back, and reach out and grab the ones that we’ve been promising to ourselves.

i know that i’ve a list. and promises i intend to keep.

i come to this rain-soaked morning on the last day of the year with a prayer card filled for those all around me. i look out into the new year and wonder what will come. i cannot take away the pains that might arrive but i can whisper incantations, beg for words and light and hope, to soften all the blows, to be the wind under wings that falter, start to free-fall from the sky.

here as we tick towards the new i count the ones who’ve suffered, are suffering. i count friends who’ve lost a soulmate, i count the brave soul across the street, the one who lies in hospice. i count the mother of a child who might not get well, and another who won’t (one mother, two children, too much to take, by any measure).

i count a dear dear friend far away who doesn’t cease to struggle.

i love them, each and every one. and their struggles weigh down my heart. i pray for hope in the new year. i pray for light.

i pray that once again we might try to get it right–as we carry on the climb to that holy mountaintop.

what do you hope and pray for as we tick toward the new year?

making my list and checking it twice

i know how the fellow feels. being something of a list-maker and checker myself.

poor chubby ol’ elf. all those roofs on which to glide to a stop. all those sooty old chutes to get stuck in, what with a whatchamahoojie poking out from the pack.

after all these many, many christmases here, the jolly one is still making appearance. the little one teeters in that netherworld of probably not believing when he’s out on the school yard, but here, where it’s safe, where it’s home, where there’s no harm in extending the tease, he plays like he’s a believer.

uncanny, i know.

but sweet.

and so, as in so many uber-sized catholic families, as in the town where i grew up, when the gap between the top of the dozen and the wee one at the bottom was maybe 18 years, or 15, or for the gestational superstars, perhaps only 12, we are sending one off to college with drop-down from santa.

it’s the morning of christmas that has long been my favorite, those wee early hours stitched with suspense, with waiting, with listening for footsteps from the rooms up above.

i will be the earliest riser, if my christmas wish comes true. i’ll be alone in this old house where the whole of the morning wraps me in comfort and tidings of joy.

i’ll tiptoe down in the near-dark of dawn, plug in the lights on the tree. turn up the flame under the banged-up pot on the stove, the one that holds “smell,” my now legendary mix of orange peels and cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves, all simmering in a murky pot of boiled-down clove water.

i’ll kerplunk into boots and trudge out in the snow. the birds, top on my list, as i call out, “merry christmas, babies, here’s breakfast.” i think for the holiday i’ll dump cranberries in with their suet bits and sunflower seed.

back in the house, now that the chimney will have been cleared, i’ll lay down the logs and kindle the flames. no fires allowed till the wide elf makes his delivery, but i’ll be the first to see that, by then, he’s sprinkled sweet somethings all about the room, one pile per each boy.

i’ll check the cookies and milk, left out the night before. and sure enough, there will be nibbles, and a ring in the glass. that ol’ elf never fails to leave crumbs and a dirty glass, besides.

but it’s all right, we understand. he’s places to go, and chimneys to climb.

won’t be long till i hear the percussive thud of the boy in the bed leaping awake (the one rare morn when getting him up does not involve trumpets and icy buckets of water). next up on the sound panel will be the little one begging the big one to please please get up. and the big one, inherently sweet, will oblige, will slide in his slippers, will wipe the sleep from his eyes, and together they’ll tromp down the steps, round the bend.

and i, in classic santa mode, will stand back and beam, watching the boys who i love with all of my heart take in the wonder and loot that fell from the sack.

and for the 18th christmas that i’ve been so blessed, i’ll feel my ol’ thumper fill up and spill–the magic of santa, indeed and indeed, is that every once in a very rare while we get to step into magic and let it play out.

same props. same story. year after year after year.

and may we all live happily ever after.

merry blessed christmas to you and to yours. to the little wee ones who fought to get here. to the big kids who climbed their own mountains this year. whatever are the stories that brought you to this holy winter’s morn, hallelujah and joy everlasting. may you find your bliss this christmas.

tears of joy and the sound of a broken heart

these things come in emails now. no fat or thin letter to weigh at the mail box.

the mail box is the one on your flat little screen. that’s where the news from colleges lands.

and so, at last, after all the years and months and weeks and days of wondering, worrying and waiting (and not in that order), there came the email that appeared from first glance like any other: sender, subject line, date, time.

the boy on the verge of college discovered it there in his in-box in the thick of 8th-period art class. he yelped, but did not open. he yelped only because it was there; he saw the name of the college, the one he’d decided was first on his list, the one he’d promised to go to, should the letter read the way he hoped and prayed it would.

the boy, not wanting to be surrounded by classmates as he got the holy word, turned off the little black phone. tucked it away. and once the school bell rang, he called for a ride.

that’s where i slid into the story. i was the driver.

but the boy wasn’t looking.

we were heading toward home.

once in the house, in a rare series of tending to hanging up clothes, he slung his coat on the hook, tossed boots in the tray.

oh, lord, why now must he decide to be tidy?

the little one, i noticed, was already pacing, walking in the circles that come when you’re worried.

his father, home with a nasty case of poison from food, had to bite his lip to keep from chiding, wondering aloud if the one with the email could go very much slower?

and then, at last, he carried the laptop down from his room to the old kitchen table where you still can find my third-grade cursive pressed into the maple planks. he flipped open the lid. and couldn’t get into his email account.

the little one paced. the father bit lip.

try no. 2, the back door into email.

at last, there it was, the email marked “amherst college early decision notification.”

he opened.

he read.

someone—i have no clue who–yelped.

that’s when i saw what the little one did: he threw his arms and half of his chest over the shoulder and back of his very big brother, his brother who, as of that email, was really and truly headed to college.

at first not a sound came from the little one. but i saw the arms and the t-shirt starting to shake. then the muffled sound came, the sound of a sob so deep and so piercing i will never forget it.

his face, buried in his big brother’s neck–the neck once broken, now mended, except for the crick that he cracks now and then–soon showed the tears that were pouring.

he hung there for what seemed like half of an hour.

maybe it was less. but time, when it hurts, feels like forever.

and so it went most of the night. tears off and on, all around. joyful ones, mostly, from me. ones that washed out all the oh-my-lord-how-did-we-get-here? and ones that swept over the hours and days when it seemed we’d not get here–ever.

sorrowful ones from the sweet little brother whose world has just shattered. or at least that’s how it feels.
you see, that little brother was the dream come true, the rest of the picture, the missing piece, when the college-bound kid was just a third-grader.

until now, somehow, we hadn’t realized that the equation would twist in the middle, and the little one who’s only known full, who’s only known what it is to have a big brother just down the hall and two steps away, well he now is trying to make sense of how that room can go dark, how the place at the table won’t be set for months on end, how he’ll get through the weeks and the weekends without his big tall brotherly hero?

some time after dinner, as i was cleaning the sink, the big one said, “gosh, i’d never thought that’s how it would be when i finally got into college. there was so much sadness mixed in.”

i looked up from my sponge, and said, “life is like that, isn’t it? so rarely pure anything. so often, a soup.”

later that night, when the little one went in to say goodnight to the college-bound brother, the tears started up again, in a quieter sort of way.

the big one melted.

it was 10 minutes past 9, so i looked at my watch, wondered aloud, “how long would it take to go get a slurpee? bedtime can wait.”

so the two curly-haired boys, one with his heart full of very good news, one with his tank nearly on empty, arm in arm, they trudged out into the dark and the cold.

the little one treated. the big one slurped.

they laughed. they came home. the big one tucked the little one safely and snugly into his bed.

life is like that, isn’t it?

tears of joy, muted by the sound of a near-shattered heart.

it’s tough, this spell right through here, where so many kids i have loved for forever are feeling their futures laid on the line. too many kids are hearing words like rejected, deferred, not yet. hold your hopes. we are counting our blessings, and whispering mountains of prayers for each of these kids. the world out there needs some kind of miracle: and i know a whole bunch of those miracles, kids on the verge of going to college. for those kids, for the teachers and lights in their lives. for the mamas and papas who’ve loved them and worried, and coached and cajoled. for the patience lost and the love discovered again and again. for all it, i pray.

we’re in year five here at the chair. not sure if i will stick to fridays, or just write when the spirit moves me. come take a peek.

and a prayer, please: my dear dear beloved friend katie. her blessed m.c. is 18 and fighting a cancer that will not go away. mightily, please, pray.

and bless you for stopping by here today…..

ho-ho-holiday nods

most every friday, i carve out an hour. or maybe more than one.

it’s the hour when i pull up a chair, and sit for a moment. wait for the bubbling up to begin. it’s when i sift through the landscape of the week, see where my heart trips up. where it wants to play a frame over and over again. it’s the hour when i capture some scene of my children’s lives, as that life rolls on. it’s where i stop and pause and stare at some God-given miracle, the flight of a bird, the droop of a bloom. it’s where i wonder out loud.

and so it comes today. at the far side of the day, instead of the start. a field trip pulled me away. and the bus broke down on the long ride home. but, on fridays, i never feel settled till i’ve pulled up a chair.

so here i am, just me and my words and my bubbling-up heart.

it’s quiet here, the way i like it best of all, the way that lets me breathe. deep in, and deep out.

the clock ticks. the tea kettle is almost to whistling. the back yard, where all my flocks come, where they chitter and squawk, it’s silver-blue light out there. the sun has slipped from the afternoon sky. there’s barely the barest tinge of pink-fingered sky off to the west.

oh, there’s the kettle.

and there goes the last of the light. all i see now is black against gray. the limbs of the trees stretched like veins against sky.

my night’s work will be filled with elf sorts of tasks. i’ve holiday bread, 10 loaves, to deliver. each one tied with a cord, pulled on a sled perhaps. depends when the snow comes.

i’ve decided this year that i am making all of december a month for quietly giving. none of this mad-dash rush at the end. i’ve made the stretch from the first through till christmas a time to turn to those who’ve made a difference, to say, with a loaf, or a word, thank you for all you bring to me on the unlikeliest of days.

thank you to the neighbor who left a basket of tomatoes at my back stoop.

thank you to the one who lets my boy play in her basement for hours on end.

thank you mister bus driver, for marking each ride with a wave and a smile. for giving me reason, each blessed morning we manage to get there, for walking home with my own smile inside.

thank you to the soulful women who type beside me, tuesday through thursday. thank you for giving me reason to want to come to work.

thank you to the principal who made sure my little one was safe at heart during his days in the woods (and typed out a furtive email to let me know that he was).

thank you, deeply and truly, to each of you who come here during the days of the year when, somehow, you carve out the minutes it takes to come and see what’s out on the table. maybe you nibble, maybe you pass. but back and again, you come and you come.

nearly four years it’s been (12.12.06, the very first entry). and here we are on the brink of that marker, and too, the brink of the eve when a boy who’s grown up here will find out the news about college.

it’s a big december, as always.

bigger than most because of the latter.

how did we get here, so many are asking? how did we get to this place where our just-born children were finding out about college–where they would go, where they would dream, where they’d spread wings and fly from our nest?

it’s a good time for quiet, this brink of so much. so quiet i’ve stitched. in a card typed and cut and pasted and stamped. in bread studded with almond paste and golden raisins and cranberries too. wrapped in bakery paper, the white waxy kind.

it’s a quiet i’ve carved in tiptoeing down the stairs early and all alone. it’s a quiet i find in feeding my birds.

it’s a quiet inside that comes when you learn, at last, to whisper, this is enough. this says it all.

and so you pull a sled through the ridges of snow. you knock at a door, and hand over bread and a card and a merry, merry that says in so many ways: thank you for making my days as rich as they are.

merry merry to each and every one of you. those who still come here, and those who’ve not been in a very long while. i never forget a one of you.

may your december days be blessed through and through.

what’s on your thank you list this december?

hero of the woods

in perhaps the bravest move of his nine short years, my little one took to the woods this week. for three days and two nights.

which, to him, felt like forever. or at least that’s how it felt going in, how it’s felt for the last three years. ever since he first heard whisper of this fourth-grade ritual, called outdoor ed.

now, the little one that we love around here, he’s not such an adventurous boy. he prefers his own bed to any bed in all the land. likes to be surrounded, at least upon nightfall and wake-up time, with those he knows and loves.

he has stumbled through a trio of sleepovers in recent months, all in training for the big adventure in the woods.

at long last, december 1 arrived. as dawn peeked through the windows, as the sky shed its indigo nightclothes, pulled on rosy-fingered trousers, from the ankles up to the knees up to the hips, the boy awoke. eyes fluttered. tummy did too.

he showered, dressed in layers, sat down to oatmeal. he was spooning quietly when i looked up and saw his big hazel-brown eyes begin to moisten. then the cheeks wobbled. and, well, the bowl of porridge was soon saltier and wetter than when i’d plopped it from the pot.

kisses from all sides–from mama, papa, and big tall brother–got him o’er the hump. then, bravely, he slung on his duffle bag, zippered up his coat, and stepped out into the frigid morning air.

soon as he and i and the old wagon pulled up to the schoolhouse, we saw the caravan of buses. big buses. open-mouthed buses. buses idling at the curb.

he walked tall, that little one. slid his bag into the bus’s mouth. accepted one swift kiss, and was off.

just like that, i was alone.

motored home, stepped inside an eery quiet empty house.

it’s been that way all week: eery. quiet. empty.

will this be what it feels like next year when the tall boy is off at college? will i live to know how quiet it will be when even the little one is gone?

quiet is among the tonics in my medicine chest. it does me good. soothes me. settles me. brings me back to whole, instead of frazzled, torn, ragged at the edges.

quiet is the door through which i slip into sacred places. it’s when i hear the whisper of the Divine. it’s when my angels talk to me.

even now as i type i am surrounded by a chorus of quiet. so quiet i can hear the gurgling of the chili-sauce-brown-sugar-red-wine-cloves-and-bay-leaves bubbling away in the pan of brisket. so quiet i can count the ticking of the clock. can hear the muffled chirp of the sparrows out the window.

but this week, the lack of footsteps from the room above… the gloves that never moved from the basket by the door… the bed pillow that sat plumped all week…

it was a hollow sort of quiet.

it was a quiet that stirred me in a lonely way. a quiet that made me wonder how that little one was faring. was he feeling lumps and tumbles in his tummy as he lay down to sleep? was he looking up into the same starry canvas that i was, as i wandered home one night, late from work, late from the train, and wished upon a star that it would twinkle down on him? did he know that i was holding him in my heart at every turn all week?

did he remember that i’d whispered in his ear: “dig deep, sweetheart, you can do it. remember, you’re the egg that wouldn’t take no for an answer. you are the blessed child the doctors said we’d never have, but here you are, determined, triumphant.”

it’s friday now. he’s made it. two nights, three days. the call from the woods never came, the one that might have come had he crumbled.

(oh, by the way, after one sleepless night, night before last, the phone did ring, shook us from the bed, at 5:50 a.m. i swore it was the school nurse, calling to say he’d gotten the flu that’s sweeping through this town, or the principal, saying ‘this boy has a bad case of the homesick blues.’ ’twas neither. it was WGN, the radio station in town, calling to see if the little one’s papa would talk on the radio at 6:15 A.M. ((note the not-oft-employed capital letters there, signaling my complete dismay that they would think to call before even the sun was up for work)). oy.)

it’s friday now, and the brisket’s in the oven, as promised to the little one. streamers are strung, a spider’s web of triumph, this way and that up-and-down-and-sideways through the front hall. posters, welcome-home signs, you-made-it signs, line the walls and doorways.

he’s my hero of the woods, and it’s a hero’s welcome.

when, for three years, you’ve been worried sick, but still you fling the bag over your shoulder, feed it to the bus, and march into school, wobbly but undaunted, you deserve a marching band. and latkes. and a mama’s arms who won’t want to let you go, once they’re wrapped again around the little boy with all the courage. who, sure as sure can be, grew up mightily this week.

dear God of the bliss-filled quiet, thank you thank you for watching over that tender heart. and bringing him through the woods.

have you had adventures that scared the behoozies out of you before you left? but then, somehow, you mustered up the courage to make it through the woods?