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

Month: February, 2011

homey home

i didn’t find the squat yellow square right away. i wasn’t intended to. the someone who had scribbled it had tucked it away. left it in a hard-to-find place where i’d bumble upon it, oh, heaven-knows-when.

it was in the stack of post-its, when i eventually found it. not at the top where a name and a street address had been scribbled. it was one sheet down. quietly awaiting discovery.

actually, it was right on my desk, nestled beside my computer. so it wasn’t intended to take forever to find. just long enough. just enough to come up and tap me quietly on the shoulder. to say, psssst. here’s a message.

the message read: “you have a very ‘homey’ home!!”

i glowed when i read it.

especially because the someone who wrote it spends plenty of time here, but doesn’t live here herself. and i grew up in her house, a house i never really thought of as homey or not. it was simply, completely, capital-h Home. the place where most of my stories are rooted.

my mama wrote that note. my mama who is more inclined to note the beauty of a bird’s feather than to pay close attention to wallpaper. who cares more about tromping through the woods, in search of a bluebird’s nest, than picking out pillows for any old couch.

my mama, you see, grew up in a beautifully appointed house. a house where the living room was not to be touched. where nicknacks were to be tiptoed around. where when you sat down on a velvety cushion you tried not to move, lest you crumple the nap of the velvet.

i, growing up under the wing of these two house-makers, one spare, inclined toward the natural, the other well-upholstered, in a house with nooks and crannies that took my breath away, well, i seem to have landed plop in the middle.

give me a nook any day. give me a corner dripping with charm. but don’t over-upholster. and do bring the outside in.

the number one aim of this house that is ours is to make it feel like two out-reaching arms, arms that fold you in, hold you close to the bosom. arms that offer you tea, and maybe a crumpet, when the skies up above are gloomy and cloudy.

if that’s the very definition of “very homey,” and i think that it might be, well then, the words on the post-it did make me glow.

and to think that my mama, my mama who spends long hours here two days a week, hours when i’m not here, to think that she’d picked up on that bit of my heart, that one dream that i’ve sought out to catch, well, to say i was tapped on the shoulder, caught by surprise, made to blush, and glow just a bit, that might begin to capture the feeling.

i spend my workdays sometimes talking to folks about houses, how to unclutter, how to appoint. every once in a while, i’m told to gather a page-full of pictures of beautiful things, baubles, or doormats, or pillows. and now, don’t tell my bosses, but often, i couldn’t care less. it’s not what i’m after, not here in my house.

if there is any one thing i’ve worked hard to make here in this house is to make it be a someplace to come home to, a someplace where storms can’t come in, where the tock of clock, or the sharp scent of clove simmering on the stove are the soft things you just barely notice. notice enough to slow down the race in your heart, soothe the jaggedy edge of your nerves.

i want armchairs that hold you in their wings. and blankets so cozy you don’t want to move.

i want logs in a fireplace that crackle. and soft round cookies under the great glass dome on the kitchen counter.

i want neat and clean, yes, but only because i find it calms me. i want bits of the garden on my old kitchen table, even in winter.

i want candles on the table, and i want them most when they’re flickering, casting their soft seeds of light on plates filled with food.

if all of that makes me the poster girl for homey homes, well then bring on the cameras, slap me up on the telephone poles.

because long long ago, curled up on the patchwork quilt of my little-girl bed, daydreaming out a window, staring up through the branches of the oak that framed my view of the stars and the clouds, and mostly the heavens, i knew what i wished for when i was all grown: a wee cottage in the woods where the storybook could end happily ever after.

and my old gray-shingled house, under the limbs of an ash and a locust, it’s the closest i’ve come to that long-ago dream.

it is, at last, my homey sweet home.

what’s your definition of homey home? what parts of your house tickle your fancy, stoke the flames of your heart?

deep-breathing the beautiful

all around us, sometimes, the walls of the world seem to be crashing in. i read the pages of the newspaper, and soak up stories from faraway and not so far. stories of thugs and mobs and rapes and shootings at close range. i read of fathers who kick children with steel-toe boots, and dump lifeless toddler bodies in bags in the woods.

it gets to be deadening. to the spirit. to the soul. to the sparks of the hope that won’t be snuffed, not yet anyway.

and so, with a world whirling around, a world scaring me, making me wonder, i find myself clinging–like oxygen straight from a tube–to the wisps and the inkblots of God’s world that won’t be daunted, won’t be dulled, won’t be wiped away.

the great orange glowing orb of a moon that clung last night just over the skyscrapers along lake shore drive.

the clouds that skittered by, played peek-a-boo, made faces along with the moon.

the wisp of green, lime green, spring green, starting-all-over-again green, here on my kitchen table, branches clipped and brought in from the cold by my dear neighbor who must have known that by week’s end i’d need an infusion.

it is these scant stitches of beautiful, of infinite, that hold me in place, that keep me from sliding off into the pitch- black abyss of human nature gone haywire, and the aftershocks that do in souls like you and me.

there are readers and listeners, i suppose, who take in the day’s news and scurry along, undaunted, undented.

i am not one of them.

last night, riding home on the el, the clackety train that is chicago’s–and my–answer to swift public transit, i pored over the dispatch of nicholas kristof who found himself on the streets of bahrain, in the capital city of manama, and who wrote: “as a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. but it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate bahrain right now and watch as a critical american ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.”

he writes of seeing corpses with gunshot wounds, of a promising and prominent plastic surgeon who went out on the streets to tend to the wounded and wound up bloodied, unconscious, and nearly raped (the police pulled down his pants, threatened to rape him, before the idea was abandoned and an ambulance allowed to rescue him).

he writes of ambulance drivers pummeled, guns held to their heads. of hospital corridors full of frantic mothers searching desperately for children gone missing in the attacks.

i shuddered, sank low in my hard plastic seat on the el.

but then i glanced out the window, as the train emerged from its underground tunnel, began its rapid ascent to the tracks that run above street level. a bright orange something caught my eye. hyphenated by all the houses and towers the train passed by, i had to hold my gaze to catch that orb again and again.

it locked me. i couldn’t keep my eye from searching the sky. i wanted to tap the shoulder of the long-haired woman next to me, the one plugged in to her wired-in sounds. i wanted to say, “isn’t it beautiful?” but she wasn’t looking. wasn’t open for business. she was locked in her unnatural bubble.

at last i emerged from that train, stood for a good long while on the platform, waiting for the next of my trains. i didn’t mind.

the wind blew. played with the clouds, that played with the moon. while i stood watching, witness to the unending beauty, the light, the certainty that reigns in the sky.

that same moon, i thought, is the moon shining down on bahrain, on egypt, iraq and iran.

it’s the one constant. the one shared link i have at this moment with those souls on the streets, those frantic mothers searching for children.

and here on my table for the last two days, the serviceberry branches, laid on the counter when i wasn’t looking. now upright and sipping up waters, opening, unfurling, reminding: life comes again. the cycle begins, returns, life comes from death.

i find myself returning my eyes to the branches. i can’t get enough. i seem to need to remember, need evidence. i seem to need to deep-breathe the beautiful.

it’s the one thing bigger than us, even in the utter humility of its whispers, the moon in the nightsky, the branches unfurling weeks before their time, coaxed along by the warmth of my house, by the vase full of waters.

it is the beautiful that is eternal, ever here and always.

it is more breath-taking, perhaps, because we need to search for it, peek behind branches, poke through the woods.

once found, though, it sustains us. fills us. offers its grace to all of our emptiness, our shadow.

it is the hand, i am certain, of the Holiest.

it is offered for those of us who get light-headed from all of the darkness, who can’t read the stories and carry on as if all’s well with the world.

when it’s not.

thank God for the balm that comes with the gracenotes of beauty. for the whispers that remind: beauty won’t go away. it’s there, deep in the heart of all that pulses and breathes. and we can’t let the darkness take over…..
where did you find the beautiful this week?

the hours that matter the most

as i sift through the grains of my week, of my year, of my long stretch of motherhood, i’ve come to know that the grains i hold a bit longer, the grains i hold up to the light, are the fine simple hours that come, often, right after school.

when the boys who i love are bothered, are troubled, are weighed down with the grit of the day.

when suddenly the chairs at the table are pulled. bottoms splot onto cane-woven seats. when tea cups are cradled in palms. when oranges are peeled, piled in sections.

when the talking begins.

of all the scores of things i might do in the course of a week, of a lifetime, nothing perhaps matches the wholeness of those holy hours.

the boys who i love are sifting through their own hearts, laying their troubles there at my chest, at my heart. they are trusting not my mouth but my ears.

just listen, you can hear them hoping.

just hear all my words, spoken and not.

just listening alone will heal, will soothe, go a long way toward fixing.

when days are bad, when hours are bumpy, most of the time we aren’t looking for quick-cures or band-aids. all we want, really, is someone to sop up the hurt. to listen to worries.

all we want, often, are eyes that look deep, look gently. eyes that listen. not words that cut off. not words that dismiss.

just hear me, you can hear the hearts saying. if you listen. just listen.

and so, unscripted, unplanned, the scene plays over and over. one minute we’re there at the sink, i might be chopping or rinsing, a child is circling the kitchen. the talking begins.

the kettle is cranked. the tea bags and cups, pulled from the cupboards. tea kettle whistles. stories are spilling.

i walk to the table, two teacups in hand. chairs are pulled out. each of us sits. i lean in, my chest pressed against the edge of the table, tilting toward the one who is talking.

the quieter i sit, the more wholly i take in the words, the deeper the place from which the words come.

it’s a curious algebra, the one of the heart.

on the surface, perhaps, it appears to be one-way. but in fact, the art of listening is a most active one. you take in, you sift, you turn each morsel of thought, you examine, allow the questions to rise. but you wait. you hold your questions off to the side, in a queue, on hold. patiently waiting their turn.

when it’s time, when the pause comes, you reel out the questions, one, or maybe a string. you sit and you wait.

a question, constructed with care, unspooled on the river of talk, is one that sinks deep, one that says, “i am with you in thought. we are in this together. our heads and our hearts entwined, teamed up. you’re not alone. i wonder, too.”

no solution need come. no answers, plucked from the current.

a deep conversation is not one in which the success of the time in the water is measured by number of fish in your bucket. there’s no scale at the end. no photo of you with your whopper-sized trout.

in fact, it might not be till later that night, or a week or a year down the road, when the one who you talked to realizes that all those hours, strung on a line that never breaks, have woven themselves into a cord that connects. a life-string that keeps you from drowning, from sloshing alone in the deep.

it’s what you hold onto, there with your ears and your heart wide open, and your mouth rather hushed.

you remember how deeply you prayed that someone would listen.

you cradle that cup till the sides grow cold, till the sun sets, and the clock inches along.

you know when it’s time for homework to start, for dinner to simmer along in the pots.

but in that holy interlude where one heart’s ache is offered up, received by another, the weight shared, burden lifted, those are the hours that matter the most.

those are the hours that answer our prayers.

the ones we’ve prayed all our lives.

the image up above, a boy and his cat, on a cold snowy day is one that i cherish. i love how the two of them lean in toward each other, touch forehead to forehead. a good afterschool talk is like that. and yes, one of us purrs.
what holy interludes of listening have you had this week? who taught you how to listen?

mr. mousey’s snow picnic

of all the mounds and miles of snow, of all the ice rivers and hurling winds, of all the times i thought my front door might blow wide open, off the hinge and dangling in a tunnel of arctic gusts, of all the jaw-dropping majesty that whirled and swept and fell and blew, the moment that caught me most stilled this blizzard-piled week, most falling-to-my-knees, was when i discovered the fat gray lump in the snow mound just outside the kitchen door.

it was not at all what i’d expected when i first eyed it from across the room, what i’d thought i’d seen a hundred times before. no, it was not a junco, one of those gray-topped snow birds with the pure-white waistcoat, the darlings who romp in the snow as if dressed for a mid-winter ball.

no, what it was was something i’d never before been invited to watch from a front-row bleacher seat, to share a long winter’s afternoon, enchanted.

it was a fat little mouse, soon addressed by the surname mousey, as in mr. mousey, with the biggest roundest ears i ever knew a mouse could have, and the busiest itty-bitty teeth as he chewed and chewed through the cornmeal mush i’d tossed out for whomever was hungry after the storm. er, blizzard. make that, blizzard-of-the-decade.

for the better part of an afternoon, i watched the little fellow, watched him up close like he had walked into my unwitting science experiment: mouse tunnels 101.

why, that hungry boy, he’d dug gazillions of labyrinths in and through and under the snow. what i’d mistaken for a hole put there by a falling clump of ice, was in fact mr. mousey’s grandest opening, the launch to all his under-snow festivities.

he showed me how it worked: he’d nibble a while, and then when his belly was full, or perhaps digesting an especially granular cornmeal chunk, he’d take to the entertainment part of the show, and wiggle his little self up and down and sideways through all of his underground pathways, punctuating every passage with the POP! of his sweet little head (and ears) out through the peek hole. why, he showed me just how industrious he’d been since the snows started falling–or perhaps once they’d stopped.

there must be a good half dozen crisses and crosses in that undersnow highway of his. and every last one leads back to the prize: the wide swath of cornmeal i tossed to the winds.

and somehow, despite the fact that the backyard was aswirl with all of my flocks, despite the fact that i’d stood there among them one cold afternoon, shortly after pouring a bucket of seed, and felt the flap of their wings, so close to my head did they swoop and chatter and make like noisy carousers at a mid-winter’s feast, it was one wee mouse who most captured my heart.

i’ve not seen a mouse in such close action, not outside of a cage. oh, i’ve seen swishes of tails now and then, heard the scampering of little mouse feets, but a mouse out in daylight, a mouse undeterred by the gaze of a curly-haired person, a mouse willing to show off his tunnels, why that was a mouse who got me to thinking.

it was as if the blessed cloak of nature—sacred wrap that it is, stitched with spools of mystery and wonder–had been pulled back, amid the extremes of snow and cold, and allowed me a rare peek inside, into all the ways the little critters stay alive, fend for themselves, ingeniously employ the snow to their advantage. and rely, on occasion, on the whims of souls who consider it among their holiest duties to scatter seed and oats and grains, and plumped-up dried fruits when cupboards allow, to nudge them along through the cold hard winter.

it’s a holy equation indeed, a sublime one. for the cost of a few cups of seed, of cornmeal, of suet cut from the beast, we offer feed to the flocks, the winged ones, the long-tailed-big-eared, the soft and the fluffy. and they, in return, throw caution to the wind, they seek out sustenance even if it means baring their ways to the humans.

one wee mouse, now claimed by my little one as his very own mascot and pet (and thus the name), brought me to my knees yesterday, and i watch for him again this morning.

he reminds me, without words, how very much we are all a tethered web. and how we need each other, mouse or bird or human, to weather all the storms that blow and hurl through the thick of our lives.

what little miracles did you witness this week?
and, out into the vast whiteness, i send the deepest birthday wishes to my brother who will always be my little one, the one whose birth felt so much like a dream come true. a miracle every soul should get a chance to brush up against. and lucky me, i did……