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

Month: August, 2020

maybe we do one, just one, bold (but little) thing…

and by bold i mean one something, anything, in the name of bending that stubborn arc of justice. by bold i mean do one certain something today — maybe even within the next hour — that you otherwise wouldn’t have mustered the will or energy or courage to do.

feeling the full weight of what we’re up against in this world that is not letting up in this long hot summer, so many mornings feeling knocked back, feeling impotent, frozen in the face of injustice, in the wake of sirens and spilling blood and streets chaotic, i turn — as i so often do — to the words of dorothy day, who in turn had leaned into the holy wisdom of therese of lisieux, the little saint who preached a spirituality of “the little way,” to mine her everlasting, every day truth:

From Therese, Dorothy learned that any act of love might contribute to the balance of love in the world, any suffering endured might ease the burden of others….We could only make use of the little things we possessed — the little faith, the little strength, the little courage. These were the loaves and fishes. We could only offer what we had, and pray that God would make the increase. It was all a matter of faith.

Dorothy Day: Selected Writings, Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Ellsberg

it’s a place, and a way to begin, for us little people, the ones of us who know full well the real battlefield that calls us every day is the one not too far from our front door, the quotidian one, the one whose players we might know well or not at all. the strangers within our reach. the ones who might be taken wholly by surprise by a sudden gust of kindness, out-of-nowhere kindness. the ones who might find courage a little bit contagious, who might pick up the pieces and pass it on.

once upon a time, stoked by pictures of starving children from biafra, fueled by the stories in time magazine i’d take to my room to read when no one was watching, i used to dream i’d cure world hunger. i imagined i could lope the globe, fill bellies, spoon unicef gruel into mouths open and hungry, like little birds.

it hurts plenty to shed those dreams, to watch them wither away, to realize you were pie in the almighty sky, and some crazy fool besides. what gets tough, gets real, is to station yourself squarely in the middle of your humdrum life, to look out across the landscape, and seek the moments where you might infuse your own cockeyed brand of dorothy day’s little kindness, little strength, little courage.

this bedraggled world needs every bold (but little) drop.

where will you begin?

nearly forgotten: the pure oxygen of hope

i plopped myself on the couch, there as the pink and the gold drained from the summer sky. as the burning bulbs of the night sky turned on, i stayed glued. i was drinking in a nectar i’d almost forgotten. almost gave up for lost.

i’m talking about hope, a balm and a necessary human ingredient, one missing in action these last many heartbreaking months.

hope, for me, came on strongest in moments from names we might never remember, but whose words, whose stutter, whose message, whose moment, we’ll never forget: a kid who stutters but went on anyway; a little girl whose mom was taken away, leaving behind two little girls and an ex-marine dad who feels deeply betrayed; a security guard whose everyday job is ushering important people, people who more likely than not leave her feeling like little more than a conduit, a necessary ellipses from point A to point B, mostly invisible. but not the man she was there to nominate for the american presidency. he’d made her — in the couple of minutes it takes to ride from a lobby to an executive suite — feel seen and feel heard. feel unforgotten, un-shoved aside.

it’s a very fine line, the line between hopeless and hope. sometimes we barely notice it draining away. get used to the feel of walking around with boot heel to belly. sometimes it’s only in its trickling in again that we realize how long and how deeply we’ve missed it.

i plopped myself on the couch not as a student of partisan politics but as a student of human decency. an ardent student. one who just might take it too seriously. it’s a lesson i remember my grandfather teaching me. at a gas station on a hot summer’s day in southern ohio. my grandfather, in one of his buicks, maybe the old riviera, with a stash of grandkids packed in the back, had just spent the day with all of us at an old-fashioned place called coney island, a paradise of roller coasters and sno-cones and hot dogs slathered in mustard. my grandpa needed gas for the old guzzler, and back in those days that meant someone was there to pump the tank for you. while the gas guzzled in, my grandpa got out of the car, carried on with the fellow pumping away as if he was a long-lost best friend and lifetime associate. the man pumping gas was black. my grandpa was white. it was southern ohio in the 1960s. we were old enough to know that not everyone would play out the scene as it played out before us. and then my grandpa slid back behind the wheel, turned his gaze just over his shoulder, peered unblinkingly at the whole flock of us, and in less than ten words preached his everyday gospel, the one he lived till the day he died. i can’t remember the exact words, but the point was the same one inscribed in every holy and sacred text that ever there was: be your brother’s keeper, love as you would be loved, live and breathe undying compassion. and the way my grandpa said it, he meant we’d better not ever forget it.

the big-eyed, pigtailed little girl wedged between brothers and cousins on a sticky summer’s day, i pinned the words to my soul, made of them my divining rod, every day forward.

which is part of the why my tank has felt emptier by the hour in the america of recent history. every single day yet another brillo pad to the soul, yet another mocking of someone. yet another ugly volley of words. i’ve been withering under the weight of it. and running out of oxygen. or so it started to feel.

and so, this week, i tuned in not knowing what or how it would all unfold. i feared it could sputter and fumble. i’d gotten used to the taste of dejection.

what happened was, moment by moment, as if someone had wedged a fulcrum under my heart and my soul, i felt myself rising, inch by measurable soul-filling inch. testimony of kindness after testimony of nearly invisible someone being seen, being plucked from the margins, being called in pure goodness by cell phone late in the night. it was a four-day crash course, a reverse course, in human kindness. in decency. in resilience. in reaching down deep and pulling out our very best selves.

frank bruni, a writer of bold and beautiful strokes, wrote this this morning:

Look at America right now. My God. We’re hurting like we seldom hurt. We’re quarreling like we seldom quarrel. We’re exceptional in our death count, in our divisions. It’s easy to feel hopeless. It’s hard to press forward.

the life of one of the men america is now considering for the highest office in the land, bruni went on to write, his “life is a parable of resilience.”

and goodness and kindness is the mortar tucked into the brick walls of that life. and goodness and kindness — in intimate moments and in sweeping policy revisions and advances — is the mortar this crumbling country needs. especially now. especially as the death toll has mounted unfathomably, “exceptionally.” especially as kids and teachers — from kindergarten to college — are scared to death to go back to their classrooms. especially as the virus of incivility — of outright murder born of blind hatred — has spread like a cancer that can’t be removed.

lessons in resilience we could use too. resilience is a commodity we can never have too much of. we’re a people who stumble, a people with knees that are more than scuffed up. we could use a good dose of remembering how good we can be at picking ourselves up from the dust. those banged-up knees? they straighten, stand back up again, almost as sure as they sometimes fold under us.

which brings us back to hope.

hope is the thing i’ve found wrung from the landscape of late. i almost forgot what it was to not get crushed by every day’s news. the human spirit devoid of even a whiff of hope is a sorry pile of ashes and soot. we don’t do well as a species when we can’t make out even a flicker of light making its way through the murk.

and it doesn’t take much — not more than the certain whisper, pressed against our ear or our heart — to perk us back up again. to put the wind at our back. the story of an unstoppable stutterer. the unstoppable bravery of an 11-year-old girl who told a whole nation — and the president who leads it — “you tore our world apart.” the unstoppable kindness of simply being seen and heard and recognized in the short whisk of an elevator ride.

we can be a people of hope again. we can be a nation that trades in kindness, stands up to bullies, reaches our arms in embrace. we can be our very best selves.

that’s what i remembered again. that’s what i learned this week.

a disclaimer: i promised a long time that i would keep this a space free of partisan politics. and so i didn’t tread lightly into today’s meander. i entered into this arena today as one where the message i was mining for was not one of political discourse, but rather an exercise in mutually agreeing that hope and goodness are necessary commodities in the national discourse, especially now as we are staring down the oncoming fall and the fears of a spike in coronavirus, in the face of so many uncertainties. hope is our divining rod. hope is the very thing we need to carry us into the light, just peeking over the dawn’s horizon…..

what brings you hope?

make it stop. please, make it stop.

my voice is only one whisper. my fingers, just one at a time, tap along the rows of these keys without sound. but the lump in my throat is ready to burst. and my heart is too.

stop the ugliness, world. stop the hate. stop the made-up lies and the mudslinging. tear yourself away from the impulse to tromp on the neck of the one you perceive as your enemy.

doesn’t need to be this way. doesn’t need to be a national throw-em-to-the-lions.

the world doesn’t need to wake up every morning searching for the ugliest route to the trail head.

there are moments, plenty of ’em, when i picture myself marching to the steps of the u.s. capitol, unfurling a parchment, invoking a code of radical decency, insisting the ugliness cease and cease now. oh, what i’d give to back some of these fools into a corner, to poke em on the chest, look em in the eye, and ask if really, really, they want to expend their God-given breath on slicing and dicing each other to bits, trampling truth, teaching children the ways of the playground bully.

i got sick of bullies back in first grade. never outgrew my distaste.

all these months i’ve retreated deeper and deeper into a realm where the rules of the world are not the ones with discernible weight. i dwell much of the time in a monastery of my own making. it’s quieter there. and gentler. i take time for the monarch butterfly, leave out saucers of sugar water, scatter seeds for the milkweed that makes for a butterfly landing pad.

in the quietude i wrap all around me, the rules i live by are the ones of an otherworldly iconoclast. the code is the one inscribed by a God who asks only one thing: love without end. love as you would be loved, love every last inch and ounce of creation. behold the wonder. of each other. of the monarch. and the dawn. and every last shimmering light in the night sky.

and, sometimes, to love means to put breath to the words that are stuck in your throat. to march to the capitol steps, to reach for the microphone, to try with every ounce of your might to shake sense into the senseless. the ones dizzy with power, or the pursuit thereof. it’s a sickness and it needs to stop. it’s as contagious, it seems — and as deadly — as this invisible virus, the plague that’s upon us. maybe more so. maybe it’s worse.

because once upon a time i was a nurse, because i’ve stood at the side of a hospital bed in the hours just before a last breath was drawn, i know something of deathbed confessions. i know how, at last, the veils of the everyday are pulled away, and what’s left is the essence. holy essence. how the sins and the glories float to the surface. how one last sweep of the soul, of a lifetime, is what carries us off to whatever comes next.

our time here is fleeting. do the ones breathing fire and lies, do they really want to fritter away the hours allotted? is that churn in their belly the only way they know to crawl from their beds? is bitter the singular taste of the day?

the choice is quite simple: make of your life an instrument of peace, of goodness, of attainable holiness. or let it extinguish in smoke and in flames, in pride and deceit, in ugliness out-of-control.

we make our choice minute by minute, day after day.

what will you choose, world, what will you choose?

if you were writing a code of goodness, decency, and gentle kindness for the world, what would you inscribe? what would constitute breaking the law?

a patchwork of thanks amid a long and winding (and sometimes bumpy) summer…

when you’ve been clanging on heaven’s door with the cacophonies i’ve kept up this summer, and suddenly you find yourself ankle-deep into august, when road trips have been clocked without incident (save for the chandelier shangri-la just outside the buffalo (NY) international airport, where a tolerance for prism-ed zirconium was a necessary toll of admission), when planes have taken off and landed without clouds of corona rising up from the itty-bitty pouches on the seatbacks, when bar exams have been re-routed online and virtual graduations did in fact include your own kid’s first and last and two middle names, when federal troops have been called back from the streets, and your tomatoes have grown succulent and drip down your chin…it is high time for a hallelujah of praise and glorious, glorious drop-to-your-knobby-old-knees thank you, Jesus!

and so, i begin…

i begin where i always do: up to my ears in amen, amen, and praise be the heavens that the boys i love are undented, undaunted, and safe in the world. of course, i’ve been chasing after all of ’em with this summer’s 70-percent-alcohol-content elixir of choice, purell by the boatload. i’ve been the purveyor of plastic shields for anyone taking to the clouds, and i’m the queen of counting to 20 (often rounding up to 25 or 30 for good measure) while anyone’s sudsing their hands. and, so far (knock on wood, marble, or cubic zirconium while we’re at it), not a single raised Fahrenheit of fever, thank you patron saint of mercury.

as i type, one of those boys is on the cusp of turning 19 — the miracle of his existence a miracle that will never lose its shine — and slinging away the summer hauling trash, whacking weeds, and otherwise delighting in the fuzzy outlines of his COVID bubble. (the rules they follow are vague, something along the lines of “if you’re outside you won’t get it, keep the windows of cars rolled down, and be sure to have your mask in your pocket if not stretched across your maw.”)

the bespectacled one, still the tallest of the bunch and my beloved for life, would have blown out his own birthday candles yesterday, but the line at portillo’s on a thursday night was 90 miles long, so there was no famed chocolate cake to be had (nor the italian beef that would have preceded it). (he made up for the confectionary dearth with raspberry talenti spooned straight out of the tub.)

oh, and the first one i birthed (the one under the jaunty cap up above), he’s joyfully — and relievedly — unpacking the boxes that finally, finally found him in his new portland apartment, after the moving van took a circuitous three-week pleasure cruise across the continental U.S.

so, bing, bing, bing, right off the bat, three giant-sized prayers rambunctiously answered.

hovering emphatically there at the top of the thank-you list would be a glory hallelujah for those rare amazing souls more than willing to hold the jittery hand of a mama with worries on the loose (that would be me, and the amazing ones are the ones who never shirk from the cockamamie worries i cook up, more than willing to coo by my side, and promise me all will be well. and if not, they’ll help me sop up the tears and gather the shattered bits). where, oh where, would we be if not for our bravest and kindest of comrades who stiffen our spine and coddle our hearts when the night feels so dark and so long?

moving from sublime to, well, fruitful…now that drowning-in-tomato season is upon us, and the branches are bending and bowing under the weight of their keep, it’s high time to genuflect at the edge of the so-called “farm,” in praise of the wonders of purple cherokees, san marzano plums, orange zinger cherry tomatoes, and that icon of heartland fertility, the ever-reddening batch of fat, squat big boys. just minutes ago, so it seems, i was the virgin farmer tucking her wee little sprouts into the loamy soils. all summer i’ve watched in wonderment as the earth (and my occasional scattering of tomato-mite root booster) did its thing, sky-rocketing stems and leaves and pert little blossoms and, finally, clumps and orbs that redden by the hour. and have me scrambling for things to do with tomatoes besides salting and peppering and downing like candy.

i take it not for granted any prayer that gets answered, nor the happy ending at the close of any heart-tugging yarn. and that is the point, or at least a crucial part of it anyway. i might be a one-woman smoke stack of worry, sending up fumes and plumes of the wildest imaginable what-ifs, but the flip side — the blessing side — of that tendency toward incessant disquietude is that, on an almost hourly basis, i am awash in the after-rush of relief (disaster once again averted), followed immediately and overwhelmingly by pure and unfiltered gratitude. thank you, thank you, thank you, holy God, the words that most often cross my worry-lined lips.

and so my necessary pause, the blessed interlude that stitches together the worry patches of my days, is the simplest — the most certain — prayer that ever was: thank you, oh thank you, for the grace of this sweet sanctity, for the safe-keeping you’ve brought and the sheer joy of knowing all is well (for now), all is under heaven’s unending gaze, and ever will be.

and that’s the only point that matters here today.

what’s on your list of thank-you prayers, here in the launch of summer’s last full month?

p.s. i just realized that the fourth corner above — yet another reason for thanks — is the front cover of my next little book, one coming into the world on october 6. it’s titled The Stillness of Winter, and my hope is that it will fill your wintry months with quietude and a sense of wonder as you contemplate the blessings of the curling-in months at the cusp of the old and new year….

i was going to cobble a litany of thanks for the glorious reads this summer has brought me, as i while away the days up in my tree-house nook of a windowseat, but the phone rang and someone came to the door, and the morning has unfurled, so the great reads of this 20-20 summer will have to wait till another day……