the ones who direct our attention
sometimes i imagine myself perched in a watchtower amid the thick of the forest. a treehouse on steroids and stilts. i’ve always been keen on small spaces tucked away. secret rooms from which to watch the world. when i was little i had one such room — my little log cabin, tucked in the garden, down where our backyard dipped low. i was sequestered away, where the marsh lilies bloomed. and the queen anne’s lace bowed in the wind. the limbs of the trees brushed up against my walls and my roof. leaves rustled, sometimes poked in the windows.
i could sit there for hours — and in the summers i did. i’d cook — or so i called it — on the upturned coffee tin that served as my “stove.” i gathered berries from the boughs of the honeysuckle (though i promised never to eat them). i harbored books in the corners. i watched without being noticed — a posture, come to think of it, i still warm to.
all these years later, keeping watch is still my natural disposition. there’s a good measure of watching in being a news gatherer. there was a good deal of paying attention, listening closely, in being a nurse. there is immense keeping watch in being a mother.
i seem to be ever on the watch for prophets and wise folk. those supersized souls whose job, it seems, is to point us all in the clearest, surest direction. i understand that without them, without their extraordinary insights and clarion calls, i’d lose my way. fall by the wayside. tumble into the ditch of losing the point.
here’s a little something i’ve noticed: among the populations likeliest to hold prophets and seers, those who are living with dire prognoses — those who’ve sat in the crucible of cold, hard exam rooms, who’ve been strapped and slid into MRI chambers whispering every prayer in the book — they are often the ones whose vision holds the sharpest finest-grain focus, whose words come without filter. time is urgent, the message is crucial. is imperative. all the fluff is chiseled away. we’re down to the bone here.
because life is an ever-surging river of exit and entrance and all points between, i keep being pulled to its banks, to that liminal edge where voices are truest. where, from out of the din, you can’t help but hear the ones with the piercingest truths. the ones whose vision is sharpest, is surest, because they’ve no time to waste.
in the past few weeks one of those prophets, one whose voice is among the piercingest, the bravest, is an old friend, who 20 years ago battled cancer, and ever since has lived as if there were no tomorrow. a month or so ago, completely out of the blue, that cancer came back, came back with a vengeance. and my friend, whose name is robbie klein, and who said i could tell you, has taken to putting her most urgent truths into words. she’s written of the horrors of tumors that make her head feel as if it’s exploding. she’s written of all the evils that come with late-stage cancer. but mostly she’s reached for the high notes, reminded anyone who’s listening, that the miracle is in the now. that we’re all dropped into a stage set of life that’s upholstered with beauties and breathtaking blessing, and we’re wise to plunge in deep, to dance in the moment while the moment is ours.
yesterday, she penned a simple list. a prayer-poem it seemed to me. a litany of paying attentions, of moments that shimmer, that beckon — but might be overlooked, left unconsidered, or forgotten.
it so strikingly focused my eyes and my soul on those not uncommon moments when time itself is suspended, is paused, is nearly bursting with beauty and promise and possibility, i asked robbie if i could share it here. “of course,” she said.
she trains our eyes, our soul, our whole selves, on those ineffable moments of every blessed day. on those moments so rich they deserve, each one, to be held to the light, to be beheld. my friend robbie is intent on slowing down time, on making us notice. on making us see.
a person who sees: prophet. one who carries the wisdom, the urgency, from heaven to earth. one who speaks words that cannot, and must not, be disregarded.
by Robbie Klein
The space behind the waterfall
The reverberation after a piano key is struck
The second after hanging up with one you love
The instant before the match catches fire
The trace when a cloud covers the sun
The sliver before sleep comes
The first raindrop under a tree canopy
The ebbing of the waves
The lightening of dawn
The space between notes
The bottom of the exhale
The final brushstroke
The first drop on the tongue
The grey before snow falls
The moment before his fingers touch your face
thank you, beautiful blessed robbie…..
please whisper a prayer for robbie and all of the prophets among us. hold her in the light this fine day. send love to where she’s tucked away, on the northern california coast, by the side of her most beloved boy, the love of her life.
and, please, add to the litany of moments that are distillations of all that is profound and powerful and possible in this blessed whirl called life. what moment might you pay attention to today? one you might otherwise have missed…
Just beautiful… thank you both
wrapping you in a you’re-welcome hug….
Between the raindrops and thunder this morning, I am struck by the intense will to live of some and the intense despair of those who can’t find that will anywhere in their experience of pain. May we find that singular moment of compassion and grace to be courageous enough to be present for both and pay attention. Thank you for sharing your words Robbie, and thank you Barbie for directing our attention to them.
and again you’ve focused my attention: against the drumbeat of news over and over this week of those whose pain has taken their lives, yes, yes, the resounding power of those who eke every drop out of life.
and your prayer: that we find the compassion and grace for both, and all in between….
between raindrops and thunder and the percussive heartbeat of this place called our life……
Yes, what Joanie said above. Prayers for Robbie, and you, who have lost so many, and yet taught all of us how to better live. My work church will send off a blessed saint today — Ron, the man who gave so much of his retirement (and before) to being sure the church plant kept running. We had each other on speed dial, and I can’t imagine work life without his sunny self. You know how at funerals they always say, “He never had a bad word to say about anyone.”? It was true. I’d be going on and on, and Ron would put in a kind word for the person I was thrashing … oh, how we shall miss him. Love you, Barbara. Thank you for your words today (and yesterday, and the day before that …)
oh, honey, i am soooo sorry you’ve lost your speed-dial Ron. leaving you unmoored, in uncharted landscape. knowing you will find your way, empowered by unending love.
adding sadness to sadness, i just got a note from our beloved PJV in the high desert of arizona, and she has just let me know that “the angels came” for her papa, and her heart is broken. so broken. no wonder the world out my window is shedding voluminous tears…..
Oh no … oh, oh, oh … dearest PJV, we are praying … xoxo
And perhaps Ron’s legacy is that you might honor him by…now being the one to “put in a kind word” for a person who is being thrashed. Then he lives on.
Re: bam’s post: We often think of the person in ill health or dying, but oh, the caregivers, spouses, other family and friends that are profoundly affected. The person is the pebble often thrown into the situation, the ripples in the water, how their situation impacts many others.
sooo sooo true. the endless and indelible ripples….
This brought tears to my eyes – beautifully written!
thank you. and thank you for pulling up a chair. you are always welcome here…..
Ohhhhh my….. This post, this poem, life’s beauty and brevity… Sending up prayers for beautiful Robbie, for beautiful Ron, for beautiful you, sweet Barbara Ann. Joanie, I so love your remarks today. Thank you for them. Love to all the lovely ones who gather at this gracious table. xxx
and, dear blessed amy, you remind me that i should have added the note that this week was filled with chair birthdays, as well. yours on the sixth, nancy’s on the seventh. sixes and sevens…..
happy blessed day to our june roses. our loves. you who remind us in unison to see and celebrate the wonders of the every everyday…..
Thank you for Robbie’s most eloquent accounting of moments of wonder. It is a reminder that every morning I wake up is a gift. I wish her a miracle.
ohhhhhhh, i love my chairs, i heard myself say as i read your beautiful beautiful last line: “i wish her a miracle.” i love OUR chairs as all of you encircle and hold up whomever it is who is hungry for our prayers, whose knees are wobbling. this circle of chairs, ever gentle, ever wise, ever ever spilling with love.
Thank you, ‘blessed beautiful Robbie” and thank you, “blessed beautiful Barbara!”
xoxox thank you, indeed, dear robbie….
Barbara Ann and Tribe of Barbara Ann, thank you for your words and loving spirits. No need to look for prophets and wise folk. You are who and what you seek, just as you are in this moment.
Dear Robbie, thank you for the beautiful poem. It touched my soul. I am wrapping you in my prayers.
ah, M, wisdom, and point taken. given my rate of faltering and forgetting i will also look to the chorus of angels and saints and prophets around me to whisper truths i need to remember, to jolt me back into the moment. that’s what poets do, what robbie does with every fiber of her being.
[…] died this week. her wisdoms are sealed against my heart. she was so rare, and so very very brave. here’s a bit of her beauty, her capacity for pointing us toward what most mattered….may her memory be a blessing […]