catching my breath . . .
catching my breath is something i do quite often these days. my breath runs away from me. or it gets lost deep down inside me, down where the sacs of my lungs are no longer, i sometimes imagine. and i steady myself in ways i like to think are inconspicuous: i lean against walls, i grab onto the arm of whomever i’m walking with. i plop swiftly onto the nearest flat plane. i lurch to a pause in the thick of a sentence, one that never would have stopped me before.
but the breath i’m catching this week is the breath that comes from deeper than lungs. it’s the breath of being home, of feeling swept into the holy embrace of the nooks and crannies you know by heart. the ones on which you’ve been keeping watch for whole long decades. the ones you sense keep watch on you.
especially the ones in the garden, the patch of earth you call your own. where every square inch is a story unfolding, a story that bedazzles me, that fills me with wonder, a story that feels like watching the impossible prove the possible: like how, after three years of being nothing but prickly canes and leaves, does the raspberry bush know to put forth teeny tiny clusters of what will be sunbursting shades of fat juicy berries? or how, out of the stark and bare ground, does the fern know to jut forth frill upon frill of feathery fronds, tight curled into commas that only slowly relent? and how, pray tell, does the red-breasted robin know right where in the grass to pluck out a worm? (here’s a hint: the robins can hear the slithering of the worm underground. how’s that for astonishing wonder?!?!)
because i’m sauntering at the slowest of paces these days, i find my long silent spells in the garden particularly punctuated by questions like these. and the answers that come, given their long-winded meanders and the places they take me along the circuitous way, give me plenty of time to consider how all of creation proclaims the one certain truth i need in these days: there is an animating force, beyond comprehension, and as it choreographs the turning of this holy earth and the unfolding of wonder, so too it keeps watch over me. which is just another way of saying the God who greens the world is the very God who, so too, keeps me so tenderly, tenderly close.
being home, being back in my garden, is the closest i know to curling into the palm of my God’s holy clutch.
we’re only home for the shortest of spells, which is why i’m so busily catching my breath here. last week we were away for a longer stretch of days––truth be told––than i’d felt ready to be, but it was the graduation of that boy i so love. and it was, uncannily, at the very same time, ultimate frisbee, the national championship. for three days in the sun, and the rain, perched on the sidelines, and under the power lines, in picturesque obetz, ohio. and in a few more days we are going away again: to the city of lights and baguettes and the eiffel tower. it’s a rare trip for the whole motley lot of us, and i can’t think of a quartet to which i’d rather belong. even if it means this ol’ homebody is going to have to uproot her slowpoke of a self once again.
a part of me aches to leave so soon. i am, after all, the queen of the homiest homebodies. but, as i work to absorb the wisdoms this hard chapter brings, i will trust my ferns to unfurl, and my not-yet berries to fatten. i will leave the robins and cardinals in charge. and i will inhale the city of lights, and a few baguettes besides.
i long to be home again. home for a long quiet summer. where my breath will be caught, and my lungs will be filled, and, holy God willing, i will be deeper than ever before.
a few treasures before i go….
And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listeningMary Oliver (an excerpt from “The Book of Time”)
is the real work.
Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.
and this from my friends at SALT Project, who this week bring us denise levertov’s poem about caedmon, the earliest english-writing poet whose name we know, though only one of his compositions—translated as “caedmon’s hymn”—survives. caedmon was a seventh-century northumbrian cowherd, our SALT friends tell us, “who took care of the local monastery’s cattle, and who wasn’t much of a talker or a singer (cowherds would sometimes sing to pass the time, keep the cattle close, and keep predators away).” but “one night in the cowshed, the story goes, an angel inspired him to sing about creation—and he never looked back. convinced he was divinely called, the monastery took him in as a monk, and he wrote lyrics for songs on Genesis, Exodus, the New Testament, and more, always honoring God the Creator. so when it comes to the English language, the earliest poet we know of was a composer praising creation.”
in “caedmon,” levertov imagines that fateful night, to tell the story of an ordinary, humble person who’s given the courage to speak, create, and sing.
*one other note, from SALT: “a twist / of lit rush” refers to a rushlight, an old, inexpensive sort of candle (essentially a wick of rush drenched in fat).
All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.
Early I learned to
close by the door:
then when the talk began
I’d wipe my
mouth and wend
unnoticed back to the barn
to be with the warm beasts,
dumb among body sounds
of the simple ones.
I’d see by a twist
of lit rush the motes
of gold moving
from shadow to shadow
slow in the wake
of deep untroubled sighs.
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me — light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched my tongue
and pulled my voice
into the ring of the dance.
+ Denise Levertov
how do you catch your breath?
p.s. i promise a few picture postcards from paris….
happy blessed day to my beloved jan, safe harbor for so many years. may this year bring you those things of which you dream….
It was great to see you and your family Friday. Congratulations to Teddy and have the most wonderful trip. Paris. The best. 👩🏼🍳
<3<3<3 you too! and loved seeing your pix from graduation itself. so so sweet. made my heart pang.
The very best to T in his future endeavors. Tell him there’s nothing like playing ultimate in front of the Washington monuments. Enjoy making many Parisian memories together!
!!!!!! i think he would love playing ultimate in front or behind anything anywhere…..
giant hug my beautiful friend. xoxox
You got this, Mahany! One breath at a time. xoxo
my three favorite words from you. inscribed in my heart. love you to pieces. we’ll trade continents…..xoxoxoxox
Catching up on last week: Congrats to Ted on his graduation, his way. I immediately thought of the New College grads standing up to the draconian authoritarian takeover of their respected LIBERAL arts college by holding a donation-funded alternate convocation. Happily different circumstances and choices for Ted, but he was true to his priorities.
And bon voyage to the four of you. Sure to be a voyage of discovery.
thank you, dear dear karen. and i shall keep my eye out for you when i dip quickly into farmer’s market this morning to fetch me some very fine bread. xox
Congratulations to your son and of course to his parents. Such a milestone. And Paris, such a magnificent place. Plenty of ways to take it in at a slow pace. I can just imagine the stories you could write simply by people watching at an outdoor cafe. Bon voyage!
i keep hearing that sitting and watching is practically a sport in paris, and i shall partake of it. just so the elevator is working in the fifth-floor walkup. or i will make my home on a park bench, and they can all look quizzically at the american lady who never leaves her park post…..
loved seeing you a few weeks ago. still makes me smile….xoxoxo
Loved seeing you as well! Thought of you yesterday as i spent the better part of the day mesmerized by a doe birthing 3 fawns in my neighbor’s yard. Such an incredible experience.
Oh my holy gracious!!!! I cannot even fathom! Talk about the veil of the heavens lifting!! Oh my….
I was pondering your question and realized that when there’s a “catch” in my breath, that’s when I most need to stop and catch my breath. So that’s what I do, just stop. Clear the decks, as they say, and commune with my favorite apricot tree. So you are clearing the decks and flying with your home team to the City of Love. Wishing you beautiful moments under the weeping willows along the Seine …
Love your consideration of “catch.” Indeed, Paris, where three of us arrived yesterday, seems to hold magic around every bend. And the tuna nicoise here could heal anything! And the gardens. And the people watching. And eavesdropping on a language I barely understand.