against the arctic whistle on the far side of the glass, the shrill siren of the tea kettle is all but marking shift change, with its regular rhythmic blasts. here at the old maple table all week, it signals: “in session.”
it’s the steam-driven bellows of the mugs of teas that punctuate a holy ritual taking place here. almost as if a shingle had been hung, with red neon arrows blinking, pointing up the bluestone walk, past the paned front door in shade of oceanic blue, lighting the way past snow drifts to the tucked-in table where the talk unfolds.
it’s been a blessing of this month of college interlude. my own sweet boy is long gone, now back in classes, but a host of other college kids, kids with heavy hearts and twisted potholed paths, kids who’ve lost their way, they are finding their way here, to this table, to this ample-bellied teapot where the water never empties and the teas are always spiced. my bowl of clementines is at the ready, so too the cookies under glass, where a swift lift of the domed lid offers sweet accompaniment for salty tears.
i find it a whisper of a miracle that kids have figured out they are always welcome here, and that there’s a heart who will listen without judgement, who makes a place for them to dump their worries and their fears. and who lives and breathes the promise that these dark days will end; there’s a grownup — right here in the flesh — who’s known the shadow and the great abyss, and who — with skinned knees all her own — found her way up the side of the steepest trail.
“it’s the 10-minute rule,” one wise tea-sipper intoned. she meant that she’d been taught to take on her overwhelming dread or angst or out-of-this-world anxiety in 10 minute chunks. endure it. know it has an end, and will not swallow you whole. and in a good 10 minutes, something deep inside will shift. or not. and you’ll enter into yet another 10-minute exercise in sheer survival. and soon enough, sure as sure can be, it will pass. the vista will change. and those baby steps — those 10-minute triumphs of straight-up enduring — they will, through simple additive powers, combine into hour- and then hours-long stretches of breathing. curled in a ball, perhaps. or with the self-propelled motivation to pick up a book, climb on a treadmill, call a friend, tiptoe to the kitchen to see if warm company might be found.
i’ve seen the gamut here this week, had kids whisper words, and follow swiftly with, “i hope that doesn’t shock you.” no, it doesn’t shock. no, no. never. it only breaks my heart that smart kids, gorgeous kids, kids with hopes and dreams are nearly train-wrecked by the vicissitudes of hurdles set too high, of broken promises and betrayals, of a world in which no sin goes un-broadcast and there’s too little wiggle room for the fine art of making honest mistakes.
so while i steep in my own brand of guilt for not raking in freelance assignments, and while my bank account is on the decline and not the rise, i find more than a dose of solace that the pages of my life flipped forward to the chapter i long ago dreamed of: where i’m the old lady at the maple table, the old lady (not yet hunched-over, thanks be to the pharmaceutical gods who give us bone-boosting weekly white horse pills) whose shoulders are wrapped in the woven folds of woolen shawl, and who with lumps of sugar and dollops of milky cream doles out vast acreages of her heart and what scraps of wisdom she’s tucked into her apron pocket all along the way.
at long week’s end, i find myself bowed in prayer for these children, these wide-eyed pilgrims trying so hard to find their way, to find the shafts of light breaking through the tight space between the rocks. and i find myself so deeply grateful that my years of being lost now pay me back in solid company where it matters most: here at the old maple table, where hope is served around the clock.
no need to knock: i promise you, the door is always open. and so’s the heart.
word of the week: i believe i’ve let languish a promise made back in 02139 to bring you a delectable word of the week. well, here’s one for this week — salmagundi (provenance: nigel slater’s “notes from the larder”) a hodgepodge is what it means, and it comes from a literal mix of chopped meat, eggs, flavored with oil, vinegar, anchovies, and onions. but used freely far beyond the bounds of the kitchen, as in “they were a salmagundi of old and young, wise and fool.”
and before arriving at the query of the week, another bit of poetic thought picked up last week in my online “poetry in america: walt whitman,” class, taught by professor elisa new of harvard college. in her introduction to poetry lecture, she riffed on poetic language, and its powers. i thought you might find it worth pondering, and so i snipped it to bring to the table, though i forgot to leave it here, as last week’s recipe took up so very many lines….here tis, from elisa new, harvard’s powell m. cabot professor of american literature (and wife of former treasury secretary and former harvard university president larry summers):
Poetic language is language worth pausing over. It’s language that slows down time. It’s language that takes us into corners of our experience we might have overlooked. It’s language that is conscious of itself as language. It’s language trying out and expanding and pressing at the borders of what language can do, just as in other media, in painting, painters think about how to use paint in new ways. In the world of music, musicians think about how to use tone and sound in new ways.
Poetry is language curious about language itself. To say that is, in a way, to put poetry at the very center of the humanistic enterprise, since human beings are the creatures who use language. When we study poetry, we think about what it is to be human, the ways in which our existence is mediated and created and advanced and expanded by language.
oh, to be so supremely conscious of the words we choose, and how we push the boundaries of human connectedness….
where do you dish out your best counsel? the kitchen table, the cutting board, the cookstove, the couch, the driver’s seat of your mobile, the bedroom, the work bench, the miles and miles upon which you walk?
Those youngins definitely know the right person to turn to — no judgment, full of wisdom, excellent listener, gigantic heart. You are blessed and are being a blessing. xo
Listening…really that is the wise counsel you offer. Your table, both real and virtual, is a safe place where we, of many ages, can pause in an atmosphere of warmth and cookies and share the concerns of heart and soul. The pace of our world does not easily allow for reflective moments. The pressure to move, think, do, accomplish is so strong.
Sometimes I think my most valuable school nursing skill is that my little office is the place where a child may come to sort out what ever is “hurting” and know that, for a few minutes in the long day, I will listen to with everything I have…eyes, ears, hands, heart, mind. It is what nurses are taught to do, gather it all up and help figure out the source of discomfort. For a few minutes, a child may step out of the crowd scene of school and have a place to center and sort out.
Your nursing sensibilities are deeply ingrained and woven with your passion for words so it is no wonder your home and heart are sought out…a professional “salmagundi” is what you serve up.
About the only good thing this deep blue/white cold brings is the opportunity to slow down and bring my coffee to the “table”. Grateful for that and the treasures I find here today.
oh, lamcal, i think a school nurse is what i long to be. without ever having visited it, i can imagine wholly the shards of light and healing that exude from your little office. your children, the ones in your flock, are so deeply blessed. as are we, who every time feeling healing wash over us, and seep through us, as we read your wisdom, your warmth, your deepest knowing. xoxoxo
My favorite sentence in this essay is the last one in the fourth paragraph after the semicolon. There’s gold in that half sentence because what kid would want to spill “shocking” things to someone whose life had always been perfectly tidy. Or projected it as such. Also, I love language and words and salmagundi totally floats my boat. A mish mosh… and a food word. I can see a blog.
the blessing of the skinned knee. for anyone who’s washed out the gravelly bits, wiped away the street dirt, kissed the hurt and sent the wounded on her way, there is balm only in the knowing that the sting will subside and what grows back will be stronger in the end. i’ve got the patched-up knees to remind me every time i pull a pair of tights up and over them…
“with lumps of sugar and dollops of milky cream, doles out vast acreages of her heart and what scraps of wisdom she’s tucked into her apron pocket all along the way”……such imagery encompasses the whole of compassion and caring that comes with knowing the years and redeeming them with the help of a pot of tea and some home grown treats. O Bam, so good to sit once
more at your table and commiserate…so glad I stopped by and pulled up a chair….. you are balm for the soul, dear one.
oh, mary, so so lovely to find you here. you are balm to me….and this morning, i am in need of balm….blessings.