almost old enough to drive a car…
fifteen years ago, on a cold and dark december dawn, i picked a name, a font, a picture, and i began to type. following the faint outlines of a dream, a vision, a sacred place where the ordinary—the quotidian—was lifted up and plumbed for universal truths and wisdoms and epiphanies. sometimes made sacramental, a transfiguration of domesticity, of the everyday, the plane where most of us live, far from fanfare, from headline, from public debate.
this old chair, pull up a chair—an invitation and a welcome—is now old enough that i nostalgically think back to the beginning, when a kindergartener was asleep upstairs. when the patterings of his pajama-bottomed feets syncopated the rhythms of this house, and when i could—and would—sweep him up in my arms, perch him on a hipbone, and bring him along, my sidekick to whatever was afoot. he’s 20 now. and he shaves.
one whole school year, this old chair (sometimes thought of as the old maple table where elbows and mugs are planted every friday morning) traveled to cambridge, our year of thinking sumptuously in the deep bookshelves and densely-packed lecture halls of harvard college, poking around in the wilds of walden pond, calling it all home sweet home from our third-floor aerie high above franklin avenue and the bells of harvard square.
two boys grew up under my close watch here; their inimitable lines and antics inscribed here. a moon walk, a lesson in the art of seeing (binoculars optional), the adventures of the long and crooked way home. and more and more…
over the years, i’ve marked deaths, and lifted up ones we dearly loved: a grandfather, grandmother, dear dear friends (mary ellen and ceci, to name two). a house, and, yes, even a beloved family cat who went by the name of turkey baby meow meow choo choo. but, too, i’ve captured birth: a niece, and a nephew who’s turning nine today.
we’ve weathered dark days—in our souls and in our one republic under God. we’ve gathered shards of light. so many, so so many.
we’ve ticked off the seasons, savoring each one for its parables, its wisdoms, and its beauties.
four books* have been birthed from here, beyond my wildest, wildest dreams. what matters is not their royalties (enough to buy a donut at the donut shop, perhaps with side of coffee) but their simple quiet existence and their placement on two particular shelves, where some day they might be pulled down, opened, read. and rememberings will come. if i’m blessed, my heart and soul will jump off the pages, and they’ll be wrapped again in my most essential murmurings. they will know, once again, how i loved them. and exactly how i made my mac ’n’ cheese.
i’ve recorded here chapter endings: my leavetaking after almost 30 years at the chicago tribune, the newspages that brought me love, joy, and lasting lessons; the leavetaking just this past year of my very own prize-winning architecture critic. high schools have been graduated from, and college, too (with another one of those now moving squarely onto the horizon). and a law school, to boot.
i’ve watch suns rise and moons illuminate the night. heard cardinals sing. and awaited the viburnum’s deliverance as it punctuates the springtime with its magnificence and its spicy perfume.
i’ve discovered saints and poets. unfurled poetries. penned ten thousand prayers. made lasting friends.
you’ve allowed me to be my truest self: quiet, shy in a way that can also be effervescent and effusive. profoundly prayerful, outside the bounds of any walled cathedral. you’ve allowed me to bring my heart’s many aches. and no one once has ever shamed me, a condition i was hard-wired to fear in my growing-up years.
most of all we’ve made this the sacred quiet gentle place we all believed in, and all built together. stories have been told, tears shed, laughter arisen. you’ve made me wiser, made me gasp, and taken my breath away with your wonders, your wisdoms, your ways with words.
for 15 years. almost old enough to drive a car…
bless you and thank you, thank you, thank you, from my old chair here at this most blessed table.
you have made these chairs a holy table. without you, this would be a hollow echo in a long-lost nook or cranny.
*a fifth book is coming, and it’ll be the first whose roots are not directly traced to here. it’s my first from-scratch book, and it’s titled: The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text, so clearly its spirit is rooted here…..
where were you in december of 2006? and how did you find the chair?
in the category keepin’-it-humble, i had a spectacular fail last friday when i was giving a zoom talk to some 300 souls, gathered for a virtual First Friday Club of Chicago lunchtime talk, and my laptop first stuttered then died, right in the middle of 50 carefully curated slides and words. some of you might know that i get spectacularly nervous before any talk (which is why i would never ever mention an upcoming talk here), and even though wings seem to carry me most times, this was a doozy. pretty much a zoom nightmare in real time. the good folks in the control room were able to re-record the part where the fail happened, and splice it to the rest. so, thanks to the wizardry of tech geniuses, you can’t quite tell anything was amiss. but i know, and i might have a hard time forgetting. it was a talk titled, In the Stillness of Winter, Stirring Assuredly Comes. it’s about half an hour, and if you want a bit of chair come to life, minus the blooper, here tis.
Bravissimo, bam!!!!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
So many have been comforted and uplifted gathering around your table, each of us pulling up a chair. Thank you for your faithfulness in writing. I imagine all the ripples that have gone out from the table and all the people touched. May G-d’s best blessings be upon you.
I probably came to the table via the Tribune. We met because one of your columns about Teddy reading the Gettysburg address made me weep on the train going downtown. You were kind enough to reply, and we were off to the races. How blessed I have been, with your friendship, and the friendship of so many gathered here around the table. You gather people in like a hen with her chicks, making us all feel loved and connected.
I very much look forward to reading stories from the other chairs of how they came here.
look what teddy and those tears birthed. you have been the hand at the small of my back and the night light in my dark sky when i needed it most. time after time. xoxoxooxoxxoxoxoxo
here’s T reading the gettysburg address, “four score and so many tears,” from 2009:
Still makes me cry, every time. And I’ve read it a LOT. ❤️
Happy birthday to a dispatch that keeps me grounded, grateful and most importantly, walking alongside your spirit.
xoxox it is pure honor to have you plunk down in a chair here, and to walk along. and that picture is too glorious, your wide-brimmed hat a joy in motion! xoxoxo
as i so often do, i found a line of wisdom this morning that seems to belong here. from thornton wilder….
“Without your wound where would your power be?” Thornton Wilder wrote. “It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.”
Thank goodness for you, for this beautiful table you spread, for your generous heart and infinite kindnesses, for the love you lavish on all who know you, for the infinite beauties you share. This happens to be my favorite place in the ether, and I count myself blessed to have been included in this circle… xoxoxo
ohhhhhhhhh, gorgeous. you melted my heart, right here in the ether! swoon. i know you have a vast and global net from there along the banks of the mighty mississippi, and we are graced beyond words that you found and have stayed here at the chair. you are loved. treasured, really. xoxo
BAM, Kudos to you and thank you for 15 years of paying attention and helping us to see the Sacred in All.
You are a treasure to me and to so many!
look what i just found MJH! this note must have been returned from the kidnapping gremlins. apologies for comment snags too often here on WP. but delighted they decided to let this post. sending love in kind to you, dear beautiful bright and shining light. xox
MJ said it all!
Love pulling up a chair each week. Thank you!
Congratulations on 15 years and thank you for so much inspiration. You are a blessing to all of us who read your words! I first found out about the chair in the Tribune. I think it was a column about cardinals. . . Not sure if it was in 2006, but I know I was here by 2008. Cheers to many more years!
WOW! that’s wild. i wonder what the cardinal column was, and how PUAC was mentioned. must have been what’s called a “tag line” in newsroom parlance. anyway, i know you’ve been loyal — and DEAR! — for a long time. and from the bottom of my heart, thank you and bless you. xoxoxox
Oh Barbie, you beautiful, blessed blogger! 15 years…what a milestone! If only I’d found you way-back-when. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these past 9 months at the table, and have been reading as many of your old posts as possible to catch up with all of you. As I read your “anniversary post” today, I followed the links to each of the stories that you referenced. Then I followed the links within those stories as well! And something amazing happened… I had one of those “full circle moments” that I’ve heard tales of. You see, I just finished reading a fabulous book, “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents”, by Isabel Wilkerson, and had wanted (and planned) to recommend it to you today. The New Yorker reviewed it saying, “What Wilkerson urges…isn’t argument at all; it’s compassion. Hush, and Listen.” (Kind of a nod to “Stillness”, wouldn’t you say?) Anyway, when I followed today’s link to ‘beloved family cat’, it took me to ‘when the gentlest, dearest sounds of your day are gone’. Within that beautiful piece you spoke of the death of Turkey and your dear friend Mary Ellen Sullivan, who had also just passed away. She had asked you to write her obituary, which you provided a link to, called ‘Special Edition: Mary Ellen Sullivan & the Soul of the Hummingbird’, and wow, what an inspiring woman she was! (Not to mention what a fine piece of journalism the obit was on your part, Barbie.) One of Mary Ellen’s many accomplishments went as follows: “While in Chicago, Sullivan convened a writers’ group that influenced a memoir, a novel, a self-help volume, and an historical text, ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’.” And here is my full-circle moment; guess who wrote ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’? Isabel Wilkerson! She wrote that book prior to ‘Caste’, and received the Pulitzer Prize for it. It gave me the chills! Congratulations again on this special anniversary of 15 years! What you’ve accomplished is so inspiring-like your recent presentation to the First Friday Club! I thought that it was great!
Ohhhh, bless you bless you! That was a Russian doll of reading you did there, one to another inside of another. You melt me. Bless you and thank you. Giant giant squeeze. I think our timing is perfect. It was meant to be now, in this season of our lives..❤️❤️
Ahhh….MB, a sister of the holy chair order suggested I follow along, somewhere in that first year I think. And how can it be that we are 15 years in? It is not a big number in my span of years, but a significant number in relativity to experiences that make a difference. Somehow the gremlins of the tech world have made my life complicated in posting, but know that I am always, always reading and loving every word.
and, in the best way, all your years here have made you feel like an old and wisest of friends. your elegance with words, your stunning wisdoms, your pure poetries: you are a treasure to the table and to me. thank you MB for sending this beloved one our way. xoxoxoxox sisters in poetry and heart, indeed……