twelve: a dozen years of chairs
twelve years ago, this old house awoke to the sound of someone clack-clack-clacking in the old one-car garage-turned-maid’s chamber-turned-writing room. i was clacking in the dark, while upstairs a kindergartener slept, and three steps below him, at the hard bend in the stairs, an eighth-grader dreamt. i tried not to make noise, didn’t really want anyone to know what i was up to, so uncertain was i of whatever this was, wherever i was typing toward in this uncharted landscape.
i birthed the chair that cold december morning of 2006. and now, as i type this, the eighth-grader is off in law school, almost halfway through i keep reminding him as he grinds toward the end of first-semester-second-year finals. and the kindergartener, he’s holding his breath, waiting to hear from colleges! any hour now.
where, oh where, did the years go?
they unfolded here, is where they went. i’ve sat down 892 times to try to snare some passing-by moment in my writer’s net. some of the moments caught are among the most precious of my life, of my boys’ lives. some got away.
over all these years and all these posts, we’ve — all of us — woven together sacred threads — thoughts and comments, stories, prayers, snippets of poetry, a recipe or three — into a cloth that wraps us, gives us pause and comfort from the melee and the cold just beyond.
it was december 12, 2006, a tuesday, when i sat down to begin. i began with these words, this promise, this vow i lived to keep:
…like all births, i have no idea what’s coming. no idea how all this might unfold. only, i have hope and an idea. i hope that this place becomes a touchstone for a whole circle of us, that we will drop in, pull up a chair, share some thinks, as my beloved friend and doula of this site, sandra sweetpea, so perfectly always puts it.
as every conversation worth diving into is one that wends and winds, turning this way and that, this too will be a stew. we might marvel at a new children’s book. we might have to swap recipes for that pumpkin bread on my table. i might share a prayer, or a snippet of poetry. i might tell you the very cool thing i just read about pouring a good stiff drink for your paperwhite bulbs so they won’t grow so floppy, and bang against the glass, up there on the sill. if i stumble into a magical shop where handmade or one-of-a-kind things will delight you, you can bet i’ll let you know where and how to get there.
the mighty mississippi of all these tributaries, the force flowing ever onward, will be this: we are looking for everyday grace. i believe that in quietly choosing a way of being, a way of consciously stitching grace and Beauty into the whole cloth of our days, we can sew love where before there was only one moment passing into another. making the moment count, that’s what it’s about here. inhaling, and filling your lungs and your soul with possibility. learning to breathe again. learning to listen to the quiet, blessed tick and the tock of your heart. filling your soul with great light so that, together, we can shoosh away the darkness that tries always to seep in through the cracks, wherever they might be. please, pull up a chair….
and pull up a chair you did. and i did. and we became the collective we set out to be.
along the way, we’ve held up those monumental moments — birth and marriage, death and dying and brokenness of so many kinds — and we’ve marveled at the barely-noticed ones (monster fighters, the crooked way home, snow when it’s still white). we’ve considered hope and faith and crushing blows. we’ve felt the brushstrokes of God across our brow, and goose-bumping down the crook in our neck as well.
i’ve learned to live — as mary oliver, our patron saint, instructs — wide-eyed for astonishments, as she reminds us that “attentiveness is the beginning of devotion.” or, as the 15th-century philosopher and theologian nicolas malebranche put it: “attentiveness is the natural prayer of the Soul.”
keep watch, the saints and mystics insist. the holiest hour is the one upon you now. make it count, make it count. practice kindness. love as you would be loved, the essence of it all. be still, so still, to drink in all the wonders all around: the stars and moon above, the light and shadow splashed upon the earth, the stirrings of the blessed creatures and the tender growing things, and most of all the unspoken prayer and longing of the ones who populate your every day. those are the few small truths we’ve made into our creed, here at this old table.
more than anything in the warms-my-soul department is the fact that not once at this table — not once in 12 whole years — has a harsh word been laid down here. it’s an unbreakable rule here: we trade in gentle kindness. you can be kind and honest at once, if your heart’s in the right place. and hearts here have always, always been just right — wide-open and all-enveloping, pulsing in purest empathy.
twelve years ago i never imagined i’d still be typing here where we pull up chairs. never imagined three books would flow from this old table. nor that i’d make some of my dearest friends, deepened other older friendships. i’ve bared my heart here, and my soul. i’ve laid out plenty of my quirks (there are volumes to be written there). i’ve trusted all of you. trusted you with my truest truths, ones i’d not before put to breath and form.
while i’ve never missed a friday, and know there are plenty more fridays in me, i might tweak things ever so slightly and, if there’s nothing deeply stirring, i might simply offer silence, or a line of poetry that’s caught me in its hold across the week. i know i’ll write across the months till T — my once-upon-a-time “little one” — packs up and plants himself in some far-off college dorm. but chapters have come and closed. and i think it wise to not take up oxygen unless i truly have a thought or two worth carving into words.
it’s a wicked world out there some days. and this will always be a refuge, and a holy respite, too. that, i promise you. if you click “follow” down below, you’ll always know if there’s been a stirring over here. especially if you click the follow format that sends an email to your mailbox.
before i tie this in a bow, i must bend knee and bow down low in deepest gratitude. you’ve wrapped me in something sacred all these years. your kindness is unmatched. you’ve become the dearest of soulmates, even if we’ve not spoken a word. the mere fact that you visit here tells me you understand. we’re an odd lot those of us who huddle here — we won’t give up on those rare few radiant lights that illuminate the way.
with all my heart, for all these years, and all these rambling un-refined thoughts, thank you, thank you. may you be deeply richly blessed and wrapped in all that’s holiest.
b., the chair lady
where were you 12 years ago? and how’s your story deepened?
a special special thank you to those few who have been here, faithfully, from the very very beginning.
Thank you thank you thank you BAM. You’ve had such an exceptional influence on my thoughts and actions over these years. I anxiously await Friday mornings for your wonderful words.
bless YOU, and thank you. i mean what i write when i say those who come to these chairs fill my heart to overflow. we remind ourselves that we are not alone. and that our little courage and our little kindness holds cumulative powers…..fridays will continue…..most emphatically when it seems there is something to say….
Well, my Friday morning coffee will likely find me starting with your archives! Our gathering at the table has been a boon of support for me through so many ups and downs and ups. Your “coffee” has stimulated my own personal writing. I have loved being able to pull up to table from anywhere in the world and find company. I have loved the slow entrance of commentary over the day – sometimes days, following the morning discussion. It was as if we were all quietly sipping our coffee or tea in companionable silence until ready to share a thought. I love my chair sister relations birthed from your Friday morning efforts to set a table. LIke the moon, we wax into fullness and then go on the wane. As the moon goes dark so should we. It it is an important pattern that we all should honor. We rest in the dark phase so we may renew and begin again. It is the time for planting, planning. Twelve years has been as if twelve moons has passed, so it is with that understanding I will honor that you may rest in the dark quiet phase and just be. Have loved every moment of the passing Fridays and look forward to that “ping” in my email to see what new and beautiful things are beginning to grow and what is being harvested. Love to the “kitchen table family” too! May the holiday and new year bring us some peace as we emerge from the winter darkenss. xxoo
oh, lamcal, i love that you draw on the wisdom of the moon, an understanding so eloquent and elemental it takes my breath away. yes, yes, consider my quiet days, my waning moon. xoxoxo so much love. you are SUCH a treasure to my heart. xoxox
And I have lamcal to thank for guiding me here and to you bam … Back when I was only 17, totally unsure about the world and where I fit in it. But I knew I loved to write, and you both made me believe my words were worth sharing, that my particular perspective mattered. It was such a gift then, and it’s still a gift I treasure now. Sending so much love. XOXOXO
how beautiful is that, that one chair friend begets another?? sweet ivy, how lovely to have been along for your journey as you went off to and graduated from college, as you found and began a career, as you cared for your beautiful, blessed mama, and as you moved across the country, settling in a corner with deep family roots. i love that it was a love of words that tumbled us toward each other, and that you’ve stayed and we’ve all grown across the years…..oxoxox
Though I haven’t been here more than a few years, I must tell you how much I look forward to reading you on Fridays. We’ve never met, but your wonderful words have carried me many days when, believe me, I needed carrying. Thank you so much.Here’s to many more Fridays…
and your replies carry me. it’s uncanny the heart ties forged across miles — cybermiles, in fact. but true ties nonetheless. amid the madness of this digital age there are ways to find glimmering shards. what we’ve made here glimmers to me…..xoxo
I don’t think I’ve been here for all 12 years, but it’s been at least 9. I so look forward to your encouraging words every Friday. Thank you for always providing a quiet place full of love, joy, and peace. It’s a crazy, tumultuous world, and those who occupy the chairs, including you, always give me reasons to be reflective and have hope! Sending many wishes for a wonderful Christmas season to you and all who gather here!
nine years is a beautifully long time, time indeed to know that when i see the name “JACK” pop up, i am in for a treat. your kindness is one of the great threads woven here, and for that i am deeply grateful. bless you. and may your Christmas season and new year be blessed…
Such a sanctuary, this table. And I expect to still see you here regularly, because it’s impossible to think you don’t always have something valuable to say. So, if some Fridays are the dark side of the moon, so be it. But your heart is always pondering…and I’m so grateful you share as you do. Greetings to all the chairs gathered here. xoxoxo
So much love born across this table…..love you to the moon, ❤️
Though I wasn’t yet pulling up my chair, 2006 had me living in my 1st apt, working downtown, trying to figure out my place in the world. Fast forward 12 years to marriage, a forever home purchase in a beloved suburb, a rescue pup, and a delightful baby girl! Your words bring such light to the world Barb. We are all lucky to have your soothing wisdom brighten our Fridays!
amazing how much life unfolds in 12 years……i know we were blessed when you pulled up a chair. and we need to tell these lovely chair friends about your MOST AMAZING bread! literally best, most delicious i have ever eaten. picking up my first official order tomorrow, and cannot wait. Belle Plaine Bread, please pull up a chair at liz’s facebook page, where you will also find an order form. i only bring true deliciousness here, and this is it. oh my! baked lovingly by liz….