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

Month: January, 2011

angels among us…

might as well find feathers falling past your windows, that’s how rare it seems these days to find an angel in your stepping path.

but, oh, when they appear, wings spread wide, head cocked at full attention, offering up the whole of their heart and soul and thoughts, well, it’s enough to take your breath away.

and inspire you to be the same: be the angel in the hard-trod path of someone else’s life.

and so comes the tale this morning of the doctor, the medical doctor with the jam-packed calendar. so hard is it to score an appointment, or even a phone call with this busy bountiful someone, that you will pencil in her name on your calendar after turning page upon page. or you’ll wait days for a call to be returned.

it’s not–not at all–that she doesn’t want to fit you in. it’s that she can’t. she is too darn booked.

so imagine this: in an email dispatch sent across the wires on a sunday, no less, she asked if perhaps a certain boy i love might meet with her for coffee on a thursday evening. it would be a fine time for them to catch up, to see how things are going, to see if perhaps there is any tweaking she can do to his medical plan.

imagine that: a coffee call.

in an age when house calls are all but extinct (try finding the box to check on the insurance forms for that one), a revered and blessed doctor–one who surely trekked off to med school to join in the art of healing–offered up a winter’s evening, to share tea and words with a teenage child.

in my book, that’s an angel all right.

can you imagine the message it sends to a kid? you are important enough, i care about you enough, to give up an evening of my time.

not because you are paying me. not because the insurance company will have a clue what to do with any sort of billing code–as if she’d submit one.

because you are a patient—a human soul and body that needs a tad of tinkering to make things flow as they should flow—and i, as a doctor of medicine, have the knowledge and the life’s practice to steer you on that path.
imagine that.

i, for one, cannot stop thinking about it. i can’t forget the smile spread across my firstborn’s face when he bounded in the door, snowflakes on his shoulders, ice clomped on his boots. he had a deeper understanding of how things worked, and how the medicine might be calibrated to fine-tune the machine that is his lovely self.

it makes me wonder just how many angels are out there, sprinkled on our paths.

it makes me want to start to track them, their meanderings through our days and nights.

for surely, they are here. planted unsuspectingly among us, for the work to be done here, can’t be done by mortals all alone.

i am starting here, a list of angels and their stories. we might all sprout wings, if we begin to understand that the fine line between heaven and earth is bridged by those among us who live with wings spread wide and luminously.

add your angels here:

survival seed

the warnings come with breathless urgency. we brace ourselves, tell bones and muscles to stay strong, bear the cold. then we zipper up and face it.

standing on the train platform, winds hurling past the naked patch of flesh that is our nose, our cheeks, our lips, our bare sliver of forehead, we think siberia’s got nothin’ on the north side of chicago, in the dark and bitter exodus from work to igloo.

and that’s before the real cold comes. we’re racing home to beat it. to hunker down, stuff rags where winds creep in, turn on faucets to the steady drip that tells us pipes aren’t frozen–yet.

the weatherman, making like he’s our wise and worried uncle, is talking upper-case-and-exclamation-mark negatives, double digits below zero.

take to the blankets, the call goes out. don’t leave home if you don’t need to.

the children pray for day off from school; they go to bed, hoping for the coldest cold.

grownups only hope they don’t awake to the sound of gushing water, from a pipe that’s gone kerpluey.

last night, doing as i was told by uncle weatherman, i wrapped myself like a taco in my fuzzy blanket, the one that comes out for emergencies. like when it’s 20-something below zero. and words like SIBERIAN get splattered on the weather map.

i was dozing deeply–and, oddly, dreaming of picante sauce–when the cat meowed, as he always does, at 3 a.m. (clearly, he’d dozed right through the weather alerts on the nightly news.)

dutifully, i flung back the blanket and followed the ol’ cat’s pit-a-pat, straight to the kitchen door, where he made his exit wish in no uncertain terms: i let him out, under the silver moon, for his prowl around the ‘hood. but knowing, as he did not, that his little paws might screech in pain, i waited at the door. and waited. while he took in the frozen tundra.

when at last he trotted back, a full 20 minutes later (darn cat!), we shuffled back to taco blankets, cold cat and i.

i couldn’t bear to stay in bed much longer, though. i knew the trees outside were filled with all my half-frozen friends, the hardy feathered ones who must wake up on days like this and wonder why their forebears were not the tropical variety, the ones who would have had them harbored in banana groves and rain forests, straight through the so-called winter.

alas, the poor things are northern birds, and with that comes a tender tie to those of us who make it our business to shuffle out the door with banged-up coffee cans and old ricotta cheese tubs, serving platters for the seed and suet clumps that we pour into the troughs.

even though the dawn was still—not a leaf fluttering, not a bluejay’s squawk or sparrow’s chirp–even though my fingers nearly stuck to the water jug as i poured it in the bowl where my birds bathe and drink, both at once, i crunched across the crusted snow, i dumped my vittles, and before i’d reached the door handle once again, there was a red-headed beauty pecking away at the seed.

survival seed, i call it.

it’s imbued with animation, the sparks of magic, surely. not a minute after it’s been dumped the yard’s aswirl with sound and stirrings.

on days like today, it’s the least we can do, to stoke the hearts and bellies of the birds who give flight to our days, who fill the boughs and branches with their scarlet feathers.

truth be told, i’d like to fling wide my doors, and invite the chilly flocks inside. come to my table, feathered friends, have a plate of seed. survival seed, indeed.

for each and every one of us.

oh lord, i must dash to RECESS duty, be still my frozen heart. tell your weather tales here. be back, once i thaw….

sometimes we forget the power of a hug

it was last friday night, i am nearly certain, when my little one, who sometimes is a prophet, climbed into our bed. he wanted snuggles, he said.

and then, as he was wrapped from both sides by arms that have held him since the shaft of light in the middle of the night shone that long-ago hot august vigil on his slippery, pink, eight-whopping pounds, he spoke the words that have blanketed me all week:

“i like when you hug me. i feel like the whole world is around me, and i feel like nothing could ever hurt me.”

i know that’s what he said, because as he spoke those words in that pure-hearted voice of a boy who doesn’t censure a syllable, the words–a mere two dozen, swiftly chosen, unfiltered words–pried open my heart, whirled to that place where they will forever live, and i let out a sigh.

it’s not every night you find yourself wrapped around poetry.

“i like when you hug me. i feel like the whole world is around me, and i feel like nothing could ever hurt me.”

i am certain those are the words he spoke because i wasn’t about to leave anything to chance, there in the dark. or to the soft spots in my memory.

i asked for the phone (yes, in the dark). i dialed my number at work. and i recited the words into the phone, knowing i’d etched them into the digital memory that is my work voicemail.

that sweet little boy didn’t know—nor did any one of us–how powerful those words would forever ring, especially as they came just 12 hours before a madman lifted a gun called a glock (a name that sends shivers down my spine, the sound of cold-blooded crime locked in its clipped hard-edged consonants), and sprayed bullets into a crowd, into the heart–yes, the heart–of a 9-year-old child.

“i like when you hug me. i feel like the whole world is around me, and i feel like nothing could hurt me.”

so we hold our breath and pray.

so we wish.

so we fool ourselves every time we wrap our arms around the ones we love.

as if it’s a shield that cannot be shattered. as if impenetrable walls are forever wrapped around the ones we love, the vulnerable ones, the ones who do not–do not–have rhyme or reason to be taken away.

lord have mercy.

my little boy’s words, now a refrain that i tumble round my brain, like some succulent fruit whose juice i cannot get enough of, his words are what we pray for.

his words are what we need to remember.

isn’t that the prayer at the heart of all our comings and goings?

“i like when you hug me. i feel like the whole world is around me, and i feel like nothing could hurt me.”

we are, sadly, old enough and battered enough to understand the limits of those words, a child’s words, to run our fingers along the sharp-edge where our prayers fall off, and pure chance reigns.

but the words are worth remembering: it’s our place in the world, our place by the gift of being grownups, to wrap our arms around our children, around all those we love, the ones whose breath we depend on, the ones whose stirrings matter.

it is all our children ask of us, in the end, to be their shields from the darkness, to chase away the ghosts and goblins, the creaks in the hall in the thick of the night, the ones that scare them to no end.

they lean their little bodies into us, into our soft chests. they ask for so little: wrap me, make me feel safe, shoosh away the monsters.

and while there might always be madmen, and madwomen, who steal the light, who shatter the morning’s hope, our jobs do not cease.

our arms are forever needed, and the hearts that beat in the middle:

“i like when you hug me. i feel like the whole world is around me, and i feel like nothing could hurt me.”

make it your job to hug the ones you love today.

even when they don’t put words to it; the little prophet reminded me the other night in the darkness.

who did you hug this week? how did the heartbreaking news of the week toss and turn in the shards of your heart?

as promised last week, when i feel the rumblings of something to say, i will put fingers to home keys. i will write as long as what’s here doesn’t feel too lean. and bless all of you who took the time to let me know you are out there….i can’t give up on a place where civility and deep thinking and heart have always reigned. bless this place in the world, and my prayer is that we can take it beyond.
i found myself this week making it my personal mission to add extra doses of decency and kindness. i looked more people in the eye, other riders on the el; i said thank you in a deeper way to those who unfolded kindnesses, large or small. i can’t turn around a nation’s civility (or lack thereof) but i can make sure i act with wholehearted dignity and grace. at every turn.
how bout you?

in defense of the tear, especially when it spills in multiples

it is a subject near and dear to my heart, and i see, here, that it has made front-page news.

the subject, friends, is the tear. the tear in multiples. the tear when it streams and blurbles. makes for sloppy cheeks, runny nose, and eyeballs that run toward rosy-fingered red.

it might, in fact, be the biological underpinning of much of what unfolds here at the table, much of what unfolds in my life. for i happen to be–and my guess is many of you are, too–one for whom the heart and the tear ducts are inevitably, inextricably, inexorably TANGLED.

there is nary a galump in my heart that does not immediately and without notice send dispatch straight to that wee spigot in my eyes, which in turn, does as it’s done since the hour of my birth: it spurts.

yes, it emits droplets that turn to drops that turn to streams and rivulets and sometimes whirling gushing whitewater rapids.

oh, yes, if there’s a talent that i have, a something that defines me, it would be my penchant for the holy blessed tear.

i cry, well, at the drop of a hat.

okay, so maybe falling skicaps don’t cause me to sob and heave in sighs. but i cry easily and freely and without censure.

so, it comes as no surprise that when the news of the day is that droplet dear to my heart, i am all ears. or eyes, as the case might be.

i am riveted (or is that rivuleted?).

i am soaking up the news. (kleenex at the ready.)

why, there on the radio in the squawky pre-dawn hours i heard it, and then again, there it was on the front page of the great gray newspage slapped upon my kitchen table: “In Women’s Tears, a Chemical That Says, ‘Not Tonight, Dear’”


well, if that’s what the headline writers and hard-boiled researchers choose to think, then let them drown in salty sorrows.

that is not, nor has it ever been, the intent behind my soggy eyes and nose and cheeks.

according to the so-called baffled scientists, the perplexing question is this: why do humans, unlike seemingly any other species, cry emotional tears?

and why, after collecting gallons and gallons of saline-stoked specimens (the chemistry flask attached to someone’s cheek, egad!), do they reach the scientific conclusion that to the male of the species the gosh-darn tears are nothing but a, um, turn-off of the sexual sort. and that, at root, is the surging force behind the human rain.

pish tosh, say i.

as a chief proponent and lifelong practitioner of the subject under probe, i am here to tell the scientists to pack up their itty-bitty beakers, their chemistry sets, and go home to take a nap.

there is little science to be had here, this is all heart. it is the essence of empathy, spilled forth.

there are simply those of us who can’t help but hear a tender something, read a worthy tale and suddenly it goes like this: the heart, an expandable vessel if ever there was one, becomes engorged with what can only be termed pure heart, the condition in which one erases the line between me and thee and feels a swallowing up of the whole. we throb with that of which we think. we become the one we read about, we hear about, we see, we touch, we hold.

we lead with our hearts, some of us.

and our soggy eyeballs follow. dripping right along.

our hearts expand, our spigots flow.

no science needed. no collecting tears. no talking to the opposite sex. no hypothesis or hypotenuse need apply.

we, some of us, consider the flowing waters of our heart — the ones that happen to pour from the corners of our eyes — to be among the holiest, most sacred ablutions since creation.

think back to the moments when they flowed: when you skinned your knee. when the girl on the playground called you names. when the bee stung. when you won the essay contest. when at last you walked across the stage on graduation night, and no one thought you’d make it. when the ones you loved hopped in the car and drove away. the night your papa died. and every day after for most of a year.

when the one you loved stood at the end of the aisle, and clasped his hand over his heart as you walked toward him.

when the doctor poked her head in the room and said, “you’re pregnant.” and later, when she sat beside you, took your hand, and said, “i am so sorry.”

just the other day, when your little one, now nine, handed you a hand-drawn card, titled, “the why [we] love you page,” and counted up to 20, the reasons why.

no, my tears have never meant anything close to “not tonight, dear.” and i doubt that they’ve been read that way (certainly, i hope, not by the mailman who saw me dissolve in silent streams once upon a time when he handed me the big fat letter that i’d been hoping for).

no, my tears are pure. and real. and very very wet.

my tears sanctify the moments that matter. they punctuate the ones that don’t mean so much, but still they make me wobble deep inside.

my tears are not a part of me that i’ll plug up, hold back, or brush away.

some of us, dear scientists, were simply born with big supplies of excess on-board waters. some of us have whoopper-sized pumps and pipes that run, direct, non-stop, from heart to eyeballs.

we mean only this when we wash our hours in the tears that freely flow: this moment is a sacred one, and we’re anointing it with the nearest thing to heaven’s spring.

what makes you cry? do you cry easily, or are your tears hard-won?

dear chair people, i am thinking that perhaps it’s time again for the chair to take on a new rhythm, one that flows when the spirit moves. i do love, on one hand, the weekly practice of writing. but i do feel that perhaps the chair has not kept pace with the world wide web that speeds right past it. nor am i certain that there’s a need to write out loud. the dedicated dream to write daily for a year gave way to three more years of writing once a week. maybe now it’s time to write in syncopated rhythm. not merely once a week. but then again not maybe each week. maybe i will record the unfolding of this year, as my firstborn heads toward college, in the quiet of the pages of my journal. maybe sometimes it will seem there is something to say here that i can’t say anywhere else. i know everyone’s lives are busy, and i don’t want to stingily take up air space. as a wise editor of mine said just a few years back when i ran into him in the produce aisle: “everyone’s talking these days, and no one’s listening.” maybe it’s time to listen. and whisper to myself…..