pull up a chair

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

Category: blogging

ten: a decade of keeping close watch

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a decade is long. a decade is 10, of course. but in this particular case, a decade is the distance between a little boy who was five, and finding his way through kindergarten, and now, a sophomore in high school, a sophomore wishing he was in a faraway high school. a decade is the distance, too, between a boy of 13, an eighth grader who dared his mama to type her way into the dawn (otherwise known by the hardly poetic verb blogging), and the man he is today, 23, and heading to law school.

a decade, too, is the distance i’ve grown since the dawn of december 12, 2006, when i tiptoed into the dim light of my writing room, once the garage of this old house, and sat down to type.

what i wrote that long-ago morning was 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….

everyday grace, surely, is the shimmering something we’ve found, the holiest thing. it’s there when you look, when you pay close attention. but it’s so easily missed. you need to attend to your post in the watchtower of life. need to be on the lookout, ever on the lookout. you’ve no idea where or when it will come, the everyday grace. it doesn’t arrive with trumpet blast, nor even a rat-a-tat drumroll. true grace is not seeking applause. simply the certain knowledge that it’s just brushed by, grazed against the contours of your heart and your soul. and it leaves you, every time, just a little bit wiser, a little more certain that Holy is all around.

and the quiet we set out to find, it’s infused every square inch of this space. in a world torn at the seams by incivility, in a world where, day after day, tenderness is trampled under the hard boot heels of hate and bullying and a toughen-up attitude, we’ve stayed gentle. we’ve traded in tenderness. we’ve held up a radiant grace, a blessedness that stitches hearts into a whole. and we’ve done it right here on the internet, the mad-dash highway that seems to traffic in all the things that this table is not.

when i think across the arc of years since i first faced the blank black screen (for back in the day, the words here were white against a canvas of black, an inside-out contrast that drove at least one dear friend cockeyed and made her dizzy besides), i tick through this litany: two grade-school graduations, one each from high school and college; a move halfway across the country, and a move back home; a whole presidency, and too many tragedies to begin to count. over the decade, i left my newspaper job, wrote two books, grew a garden, simmered a few stews, stirred countless bowls of porridge, dried even more tears. i’ve kissed goodbye two beloved friends, and a father-in-law like no other. we’ve watched a kid learn to read, another learn to row, nursed and buried a very old cat, counted stars, chased after the moon, sent my mama off to surgery twice, but mostly marveled at her devotion for tuesday night dinners, plied week after week for nearly two dozen years.

in all this sacred time here at the table, i’ve made and deepened friendships. i’ve stood back and watched strangers reach out across the way, find shared communion, grow close in friendships all their own. i’ve listened closely, taken notes, as the two boys i love have wound their way through the landscape of their lives. i’ve loved them in double time as i put their words, their stories, to ink. i’ve netted a moment or two worth savoring, worth holding to the light, worth keeping as long as i’m alive — and then some.

i hadn’t much clue where this typing would go, back on the first day i started. i certainly never dreamed that 10 years later, i’d still be typing, finding my way. i hadn’t a clue that here, in the sacred space of our shared creation, i’d find the holy bliss i’d always been after. i suppose i’ve always been a make-believe girl, and here, at the table, i used the one sure thing i know — words typed into inklings, carved into thoughts, emerged as insights — to claim a space i knew was possible: a place where radiance lights the way, and gentle truth is our guidepost.

on the dawn that marked the first full whirl around the sun (a year that had me writing five days a week, every single weekday), i wrote:

we set out — me and my soul and my fingers — to see where we’d get if we were dropped, one distant december, in the snowiest woods. if we stayed there for a year, groped around, poked under leaves, sat by a babbling brook. looked skyward. counted moonbeams and twinkling stars.

some days, i swear, my ol’ boots, the ones i wear when i’m hiking, meandering about in the woods, they felt like 100-pound weights on each foots.

more often, though, i was barefoot and running through meadows. i was catching a glimpse of the butterfly wing. feeling the gentle fingers of God on my shoulder. hearing the sound of my heart thumping, and thumping some more.

i only kept doing the smartest thing i know if what you want is to get from place A to place Somewhere: i put one foot in front of the other. kept my eyes mighty peeled. my heart too.

and look, here, where we are.

we made it through the woods, all right. but the thing is, along the way, i found a something in the woods that fills my lungs, that makes my blood run quick. that gives me something to think mighty hard about.

i’m thinkin’ maybe the woods is a beautiful place, a place that offers me and my soul just what we need.

with all my heart, thank you and bless you for making this a most beautiful space in the holiest decade of my one sweet life. more to come….

amen.

love, bam xoxox

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what lit your way through the last holy decade? 

special edition: mary ellen sullivan & the soul of the hummingbird

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i don’t usually write on wednesday mornings, but this is no ordinary wednesday. my beloved friend, the one to whom i said goodbye on friday, the friend i’d not named here — out of respect, out of privacy — she died on sunday afternoon. her name is mary ellen sullivan, and before she died, she asked that i write her obituary. my knees nearly buckled when i opened the email friday night that held that blessed and soulful and wrenching request. mary ellen was a writer; we met 35 years ago, when i was a nurse learning how to be a journalist, and she was fresh out of boston college, ready to take on the world as a magazine writer and editor. we stayed friends for all the years and all the life that has tumbled by since the summer of 1981. i was in her wedding, she was in mine. i was there, too, when her marriage ended, and for the weeks and months that followed. she drove me to the hospital the bitter-cold night when my first pregnancy was suddenly slipping away. i drove her home from the airport the gray winter’s afternoon when she returned from her six-month trek around the globe all on her own; it was during that car ride that i told her i was again pregnant, this time with the baby who would become my firstborn. when mary ellen started a blog four years ago, i became a careful reader and devoted follower. i knew — because i’d been doing it for five years by then — just how exposed you can feel, just how much it matters that this curious form of writing be held to the very same standards we’d both learned at medill’s school of journalism (i loved it once, not so many months ago, when mary ellen caught a typo in one of my blog posts, and she called to make sure i correct it; i had mis-typed “their” when it should have been “there”). and we both knew that an even higher standard comes into play when you commit to what we do here: you write from the heart, you speak the deepest truth you know, and when you hit the “publish” button you unreel a prayer.

so in the hollow hours of saturday, wholly aware of the weight of the assignment — “write mary ellen’s obit” — i turned to mary ellen’s breathtaking blog, on the wings of the hummingbird. as i pored over her entries, i melted. and i started to smile a very deep smile. i realized that mary ellen had already written much of her obituary. her words were so poetic, so infused with the essence of who she was and ever will be, i simply began to snatch up whole passages, lining them up in what felt like the wisest order. i realized that mary ellen might have had a hunch that i’d figure out the way to write her obit: let her write her obit. and so i did. i stepped out of the way, made hers the voice of the obit.

it is serious business — in my book, perhaps, the most serious business — to write an obit, anyone’s obit. a whole life is distilled. the message of a lifetime is trumpeted, is illuminated. it is daunting to sit down and try to capture the whole, the beauty, the poetry. and so, every time, before i lift a finger, before i put a finger to keyboard, i close my eyes and i pray. 

the answer to my prayer on sunday afternoon, minutes after i learned that mary ellen had died and it was time for me to begin my assignment, is today in the chicago tribune; it’s what’s known as the “lead obit.” mary ellen would love that. and that makes me smile in a week when my heart is sodden with sorrow.

with love, here is a life story i want you to read. mary ellen’s wisdom, her poetry, her clarity — the whole of her — takes my breath away. from today’s chicago tribune:

Mary Ellen Sullivan, who wrote a blog on joy, dies at 56

Barbara Mahany
Chicago Tribune

On the day she was wheeled into surgery for recently diagnosed ovarian cancer, Mary Ellen Sullivan wrote words that would become her clarion call, words that ring with the insistent urgency of a prophet: “If you are sleepwalking through your life — wake up — before the universe does it for you.”

She posted the words on her blog, On the Wings of the Hummingbird, a compendium of wisdom and joy, under the title, “A rare piece of hummingbird advice.”

Sullivan, 56, who died of ovarian cancer Sunday at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, wasn’t in the business of giving advice.

She was a writer and traveler, a diviner of joy — joy unexpected, unlikely and against the odds. “In a time of chaos (now righted),” she wrote in March 2012, “on a day in which joy seemed eclipsed by uncertainty, I committed to writing about joy every day. I figured that if I can find joy when I’m in the mud, then maybe I have something to say about joy.”

Sullivan, a longtime Chicago resident, was born in Harlingen, Texas, and, from the beginning, crisscrossed the continent and the globe.

“I grew up a nomad,” she once wrote, “living in 10 different places by the time I was 19 because my father’s corporate job took our family across the country and around the world. Some of it was glamorous — San Francisco in 1969, Europe for my college years — but other parts were, as you might imagine, difficult.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 1981, majoring in English, with philosophy and art history minors. In 1982, she earned a master’s degree in magazine journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Upon graduation, she took a job as a magazine editor at General Learning Corp., a small educational publishing house in Highland Park, and five years later, she moved to Advocate Health Care, in Oak Brook, where she ran the publications department for another five years.

She was putting down roots, falling in love with Chicago, from the lakefront she biked by the mile to the backstreets and blues joints and countless holes in the wall. She explored the city with an adventurer’s eye and a journalist’s curiosity. After a decade, though, she was ready to travel the globe. All on her own.

“On the heels of a short marriage, a grueling divorce and some burning career questions, I took an extended leave of absence from my job to travel around the world by myself,” she once wrote. “I skied the mountains of New Zealand and biked through the Chinese countryside. I bargained for goods at the Bangkok night market, shopped the glittering stores of Hong Kong, touched the crumbling Berlin Wall, swam along the coast of Australia and holed up in Somerset Maugham’s former hotel room in Malaysia to write.

“Mine was nothing less than a spiritual journey in which I peeled off layers of cultural conditioning to get to the essence of my spirit,” she wrote.

Unwilling to return to the corporate world, Sullivan launched a freelance writing career that brought her bylines in the New York Times and various women’s magazines, as well as travel guides, a book about Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” public sculpture exhibit, and liner notes for a jazz record label.

She designed her life, she said, so that she could continue to travel, paradoxically deepening her roots the farther she roamed.

“I spent one winter in South America, another on Tahiti and Easter Island. Along the way I fell in love with Africa and returned to this land of my heart, time and time again. I began studying with the ancient medicine men and women around the world, and found a community here in Chicago of like-minded people who became my tribe.”

While in Chicago, Sullivan convened a writers’ group that influenced a memoir, a novel, a self-help volume and a historical text, “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

She might have found her deepest calling, though, as a keeper and chronicler of joy. Her blog, which she started in March 2012, was a reflection of the way she lived her life.

She began by putting a journalist’s sharp eye to the world around her:

“I noticed how unconscious most people were, blind to the joy all around them. They walked with their heads down and their defenses up. They saw without seeing, heard without hearing, spoke without thinking, remembering nothing. It actually hurt my heart to watch. And then, as the economy got worse and the natural disasters quickened, I saw fear, anger and incivility. Drivers became ruder, sales clerks surlier, tempers shorter.”

And so, she set out to right that, recording joy day after day. She named her blog after the hummingbird: “My favorite description of hummingbird magic comes from Ted Andrews, who wrote the seminal book on animal totems called ‘Animal Speak.’ He says, ‘There is something inside the soul of all of us that wants to soar through sunbeams, then dance midair in a delicate mist, then take a simple bath on a leaf. There is something in our souls that wants to hover at beautiful moments in our lives, making them freeze in time. There is something in us that wants to fly backwards and savor once more the beautiful past. Some of us are just hummingbird people.’”

“Guilty as charged,” Sullivan added.

And she ended one blog entry with this insistent instruction: “And if you love the life you have, please, please, practice gratitude. Wake up every morning acknowledging just how much beauty is in your world. Pay attention to it, honor it and keep your heart and your eyes wide open. You won’t regret it.”

Sullivan’s partner of 18 years, Michael Schmitt, died in 2014.

She is survived by her parents, Donal and Martha Sullivan; two brothers, Bill and John; and a sister, Sheila Zimmerman.

Memorial services are pending.

Barbara Mahany is a freelancer reporter.
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

blessings, my beautiful friend. blessings upon blessings. and thank you. thank you with all my heart….

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this is the headline that wound up in the newspaper edition of the story. she would love this headline, as do i. oh to be known as a “chronicler of joy”….blessings, my hummingbird friend. i will be watching for you, waiting for the brush of your wings past my brow. and my heart…..

nine.

nine

we mark time to measure something far deeper than the number of days. we mark time to take stock of our soul. to plumb its depths. to trace across its undulations. to peek into the shadowy places, and bask in the patches of pure illumination.

tomorrow, the twelfth day of the twelfth month, this old chair will once again glide across the stretch of shadow and light on which it began. its ninth circle round the sun. nine years of keeping watch, of perking my ears to the faintest of whispers. the whispers of the heart, yes. but just as certainly the wind rustling the leaves. the blue jay’s squawking. the world holding its breath. the pounding of bare soles against hardwood planks, rushing to the door to welcome love home.

at the break of dawn on december 12, 2006, i tiptoed down the stairs to a little nook of a room where a screen glowed, a screen waiting to be filled with words, with pictures, with postcards from the front — the homefront, in this case. the heart and soul of the homefront.

i had no real idea how all of this would unspool. but i knew that i wanted to carve out a hollow of quiet, a tide pool along the rushing river of life, where you and i might plop our bottoms onto a rock, might dip our finger into the current, might watch the light shifting, listen for the crunch of the forest under the wee padded feet of the creatures who call the woods home.

i knew i wanted a sacred someplace. a place where kindness prevailed. a gentle place, a home for tenderness and telling the truth. a place where we could bring our brokenness, or, just as emphatically, our bold claims of hope.

it would be an enchanted someplace. or at least that’s what i prayed.

i’ve long believed in enchantment. long believed in the possible. and the power of divine imagination. you can, sometimes, if you’re spectacularly lucky and a whole lot blessed, will your way to the landscape of which you dream.

when i was little i spent long hours in the woods across the way from the house where i grew up with a motley crew of four brothers. i plunked sticks into the pond where the ancient turtle basked on a log. i splashed across the rocks in the stream where crawfish bobbed from deep down in the dark.

that’s where i learned to believe in so very much of what still matters — the sanctity of silence, the incandescence of heavenly light, the blessing of being alone, the joy of muddy boots.

and maybe, too, that’s where i learned to believe that, fueled by imagination and spiced with a good dash of faith, i just might carve out a holy place.

and if there’s come to be anything holy about this make-believe table, circled with so many old chairs, it’s thanks to the good grace of your company — your day-after-day, week-after-week, year-upon-year coming by to share a few words, or a story, or kindness or wisdom. and ladles of love.

looking back over the nine blessed years — and thanks to the wizards at wordpress who keep track of these things — i can see at a glance just where these 729 posts have taken us, a bit of a roadmap in reverse, a by-the-numbers snapshot of what’s captured our imagination: 39 posts have considered the angels among us, 16 times i’ve laughed at myself (clearly, no one was counting), stillness has been a subject 22 times, motherhood 101, motherlove 44, mother prayer 17. we turned to cooking — for comfort, for joy — 42 times. blessings have been the subject du jour 64 times, paying attention 51 times, worry 11 (yet another serious under-estimate), wisdom only once (egad!). savoring moments, at 89 posts, is solidly a leitmotif.

and in just the last year here at the chair, we’ve traversed death and grief, awe and hope and hearts that are shattered by the most intimate of devastations or those played out on the world stage. we’ve considered quiet and the eloquence of silence. and this year, blessedly, the trumpets blared at the prodigal homecoming of my firstborn. i’ve written of words and books and harper lee. but if i had to pick three posts that will stick with me forever, it would be the prayer of remembering, the day my little one tried his hand at healing the sick, and, more than any other this year, the magic day at the magic hedge, where my most beloved friend and i pressed each sacred hour against our hearts, knowing, too well, the hours — and she — would soon slip away, a hole in my heart will ache till the end of time.

bless you. and thank you. for every kindness. for every dollop of wisdom. for your patience, your faith, and your blessedness. for the times you make me laugh out loud. and for every time you’ve made me wipe away a tear. from my heart to yours, a never-ending embrace.

may we never give up on the promise to infuse this weary old world with all the love and goodness we can possibly muster.

much love, b.  images

the original mother nature (appearing elsewhere…)

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a note: a dear writerly friend of mine, laura lynn brown, author of “everything that makes you mom,” and the award-winning essay, “fifty things about my mother,” published by iowa review and slate, has carved out a writing place for all things motherly. it’s called “makes you mom,” and in her ever generous ways, she asked if she might pick something i wrote about my mama and post it there, as she begins her library of motherliness. i would do anything for laura, so i said yes. it’s posted there this morning, and in hopes of helping more readers find her newfound corner of the cyberworld, where soon enough laura and her team of writerly compatriots will be accepting submissions, i’m pointing you toward laura’s lovely new botanically-bedecked site. and even though a monday post feels a bit like getting out of bed and forgetting to change out of my jammies, here’s the pull up a chair post (originally written in 2007) that dear laura chose to post. i’ll include the first few grafs here, but to read it to the end, you’ll need to click the link. that’s how the cyberworld often works. and how it works this fine and foggy monday morning…..

we didn’t know it, her little brood. we thought everyone’s home movies had pans of tree tops, flashes of scarlet tanager in between the frames of children waddling, waving, being silly for the camera.

coulda fooled us. didn’t every mother teach her hatchlings to hush when an oriole was in the yard? to rush out and scatter halves of oranges, the winged things’ sweet reward for populating her old oaks.

doesn’t everyone get daily, heck, hourly if warranted, phone calls with the up-to-the-minute news of the baby screech owls whose mama pirated the wood duck house, high up in the trees, and taught her babies to fly, right over my mama’s head?

when you grew up with my mama, you took these things for granted. you had no clue how much you’d learned, how much she’d taught you about the world of God’s creation while other children were merely trying to memorize the capitals of algeria, and bolivia, and, perhaps, the republic of congo.

it came slowly to my attention one day sitting in the newsroom, when an extremely intelligent friend of mine, a friend who grew up in queens, was wondering what the red bird was, not the one with the orange belly, she said, but the one that was red all over.

you mean the cardinal? i asked, as if she’d asked which letter followed C.

but you didn’t even look that up in a book, she cried, unnecessarily impressed.

well, no. but my mama is the original mother nature. or at least my original mother nature, my very own earth mama. and some things, you just absorb.

(to keep reading, please click the link below….)

http://makesyoumom.com/original-mother-nature/

blessings, and see you friday, when i will remember to get out of bed and change out of my jammies…

and while you’re at it, please tell your friends about “makes you mom,” and the lovely work my dear friend laura is unfurling…..

the lesson of eight: follow the whisper

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i remember the morning. i remember the dark. i remember the quiver, there in my fingers. i remember the pounding in my heart.

i’d tiptoed out of bed, taken a deep-down breath. and then i started typing, started believing.

i’d pulled up a chair for the very first time. and i’d no clue where that typing would lead. heck, i wasn’t even sure i’d find the end of the very first sentence. but i did. sentence after sentence. so many sentences now — eight years of sentence. of fragment. of shards of my heart.

the words that are tucked away here, in this place that — for me — amounts to a treasure box, an unlocked treasure box, one that holds virtual sheafs of paper, and snapshots i lift from the stack, study as if dust motes floating across a shaft of light, the words here have been my butterfly nets, as i lope and stumble and try — oh, i try — to capture the moments of life passing by.

it’s the closest thing i know to lifting up these holy hours, to etching the words of my boys, of passing strangers, of friends, onto this screen that i pretend is parchment. that i write as a relic of life loved well. life loved deeply.

to write in the dark of the just-dawning day, to write when the sky out the window is first soaking up light, starting out black, turning to blue-tinged haze or cottony gray, depending on clouds, to write when the shadows and shapes of the trees fill in, the birds first rustle the branches, is to write at the cusp of consciousness.

this is the hour when the heart and soul, perhaps, are most porous, so what oozes through is closer to truth than anything else we might know all day.

this is the sacred hour, the hour of stillness.

and so, this hour is the one when i’ve learned to slide into my explorer’s boots, when i’ve hauled my butterfly net from the jam-packed closet, and loped around the premises to see what i catch, what i find.

and then, like a child whose attention is held, is rapt, by a ladybug landed on a leaf, or a fuzzy caterpillar inching along, i crouch down low. i pull out my looking lens, and i examine. i marvel. i wonder.

eight years. eight years today. 12.12, the chair’s birthday.

when this old chair first scratched across the kitchen floor, my little one had just turned five, my older one was nearly 13.5. i only wish i’d started before both boys were born, because then i’d have the whole cloth, and now i’ve got only a portion. priceless portion.

because more than anything this is a stack of love letters to my boys. this is a record of who their mama was, and how she loved them. it’s the surest way i know to give them the gift of my heart. because in my book, words equal heart equal love — exquisite, breathtaking, stumbling and fumbling. love that tries so hard, and yet still blows it. love that aims and misses. love that dusts off her knees and tries it again. love = a work in perpetual progress.

but beyond this place as a keeper of heart, it’s taught me one other thing, if not 100 other things, or 1,000.

it’s taught me to follow the whisper.

back when i first sat down to type, that trembly shadowed morning, i had no idea where i was going. i was typing into the dark. but i believed in the light.

i wasn’t sure where or how i’d find it. but the one thing i knew was that the surest way through the dark was one word at a time. one word quietly, boldly, sometimes trepidatiously following another.

word after word equals sentence. sentence after sentence equals moving toward truth. and in time, whole cloth is unfurled.

this is who i am, the words start to say. this is what i believe.

it’s called finding a voice. but it’s also divining for heart. if you quiet the noise, the distraction. if you muffle the ever-chattering doubt, you just might stumble upon the poetry that breathes at the pulse point of all of us.

we are infused with whisper. that’s where our dreams begin. and when — despite all the back talking we can do to ourselves, all the convincing ourselves we might as well throw in the towel, call it a day, pack up our toys and shuffle off home — when we keep our ear to the whisper, when we go with the heart that’s pushing us forward, the heart that says, over and over, “don’t mind the darkness, just live toward the light,” we’re tracing the course to the deepest-down truth. we’re becoming the blessing we are most meant to be.

maybe your whisper is dance. maybe your whisper is healing the sick. maybe your whisper is pleading: “please lift a paintbrush, tickle it into the azure, the cobalt, the tourmaline, and, please, paint a sunrise or sunset.”

my whisper told me to write. write for the depths and the shadows. examine the light. see the poetry. wrap your words around the breathtaking essence of each and every day.

my whisper said, “just keep writing.”

so i did. and along the way, oh, the beauties i’ve gathered. the beloved friends whose whispers heard mine. the ones who whisper back.

eight years later, and there’s a book in the world, the one being “mullipuffed,” even now as i type. God bless mullipuffs.

i’d long dreamed of armchairs pulled round the hearth. and kitchen tables splattered with crystals of sugar, and cream-stirred rings spilled from mugs of hot coffee. i imagined a world where kindred spirits pulled chairs to a circle, and talked about the holiness that animates their every blessed hour.

i have no clue, not an inkling, how many such tables and chairs are out there right now. but i have a picture i keep in my head, in my heart: i close my eyes and out of the darkness, out of the black velvet cloth that wraps the globe, night after night, dawn after dawn, i see golden lights glowing. dabs of candlelight here and there, all haloed together. a shimmering, glimmering necklace of light. lanterns of flame. old kitchen fixtures. maybe simply the roar of the fire, the logs of the forest offering up their incandescence — blessed sacrifice, indeed.

i typed in the dark, dawn after dawn, for eight blessed years. an octave of typing. i followed the whisper to wherever it led. it led me to here, the place where my heart nestles so soundly.

and, here in the dark, in the shadow of dawn, i’ll keep fumbling for keys and the truth. i’ll keep typing, i promise.

bless you each and every one of you who has ever pulled up a chair. bless you for listening. and following along in the dark.

what is your whisper telling you? 

eight

an invitation

an invitation

the invitation is broader and deeper than simply offering you a date and a time and a place. yes, there is that (details below). but the invitation i’m gently laying here at the table, it’s a doorway, an entering in….

the invitation is to slow time, to savor, to pay attention, to carve out quietude in the rush and the whirl of your every day.

we’ve been circling around those notions for years now, here at the chair. and somehow, in a mystical, magical, marvelous way, those quiet ideas have tucked themselves into the pages of a book, a book that might plop onto my front stoop any hour now. while i’ve not yet lifted it out from a box, haven’t felt its weight hard against my palms nor flipped through its pages, haven’t marveled forward and back that words typed here in the murky first light of so many mornings have found their way off the screen and onto the page. spelled out in ink — a newsgirl’s primary intoxicant.

but i’ve seen proof that those pages are finally off the printing press. they’re bound, slipped between covers.

any hour now, i’ll christen those pages with my freshly spilled tears.

so it’s time for the invitation.

for starters, consider the book, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 7, 2014), a portable iteration of this old chair. why, you can take it wherever you go. you can bring it to bed, tuck it under your pillow. you can spill it with crumbs (and not have to worry that your keyboard gets jammed with a bit of a cracker). you can climb into a tree, and turn its pages. you can even slink in the bathtub (and not have to worry about glug-glugging your screen under the bubbly suds). it’s the chair unleashed. the chair on the loose. we’ve snipped the cords and numbered the pages.

ah, but there’s something even more enticing than the fact that Slowing Time, the book, can follow you anywhere, can go where’er you go.

and that’s where the invitation begins: my prayer all along has been that what’s tucked in the pages of Slowing Time is simply a field guide into the depths of your holiest hours. my hope is that it might become your whispered companion. a place to begin to contemplate how your life might look and feel and radiate if we dial down the noise, hit pause, and sift through the mess for the shards of the Sacred.

it’s a sketch pad, really, in which the flickers of half-baked ideas clothe themselves in words. and those words become the stepping path into the woods, into the depths. or at least point you in intriguing direction.

professor elisa new, beloved poetry scholar at harvard, talks about how a poem is a “communal resource, a convening space — written in a language we all understand.” it’s a place, she says, “where one human being has tried to make meaning, using a tool — the language we all share — that belongs to all of us. and so, by entering into inquiry, discussion, and interpretation of that poem, we can fully engage in that activity so central to the humanities, that activity of human conversation about what it is really to be human.”

and so, too, with the words you find spilled on the pages of Slowing Time, it’s an invitation to “shared inquiry.” and its words are, at heart, prayer unfurled in plainspoken prose. one someone’s prayer searching, searching for companion — be that gentle journeyer God, or the soulmate you find along your stumbling way, or sitting just inches across from you.

after all, the geometry of the old maple table, and the chairs that are tucked up against it, is the circle. heart linked to heart, hands within squeezing range, eyes close enough together that we can catch the sparkle on a joy-filled day, or the empty hollows in the hours when sadness or grief has eclipsed the light.

it is in those circles of our life — the circles we create out of love, or even when carved by accident of geography — that we find communion. and our own plumbing of the depths becomes shared inquiry, scaffolded exploration. a safe zone, where even our rawest tender spots can be laid before us, with no fear of harm or scorn or raised eyebrow.

still, though, it is in solitude, and in the sanctuaries of time we’ve hollowed out of the day, that the deepest paying attention begins.

as with so many spirit-filled vespers, slowing time — here at the table over the years, most lately every friday morning — has become a practice. practice, as in trying over and over and over to hew closer to the anointed edge at our most blessed core. practice, as in a ritual that surrenders to a rhythm. and, as with all holy acts, the holiness is found burrowing into the nooks and the crannies of a place — an interior, our interior — at once familiar and still to be explored.

it is the nautilus of prayer.

and it is the invitation that pulses at the heart of Slowing Time: use these words, little more than one pilgrim’s prayer, to lead you deeper into your own heart’s vault. settle in. deep breathe. catch the light. embrace the shadow.

and, once you’ve breathed Holiness in and in and in again, lift your eyes, and discover the light of the circle around you, within you. there is Holiness abounding, and it’s ours, radiant with grace.

and here’s the date-time-and-place invitation:

Slowing Time begins here: Reading, Conversation and Book Signing 

Wednesday, September 17 (feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen, the great medieval mystic, composer, writer, visionary)

7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Francis Xavier Warde School at Old St. Patrick’s Church

120 South DesPlaines Avenue, Chicago

(leave it to Old St. Pat’s to prompt the heavens to rain down books before the publication date…)

 

yet another reading, after the actual publication date of Oct. 7, is now inked onto the calendar of a marvelous magical bookshop in Evanston:

Slowing Time Reading and Conversation

Bookends & Beginnings bookstore, a magical bookshop tucked in an alley that feels as if it’s popped off the pages of Harry Potter. Co-hosted by Evanston Public Library. To reserve a seat, please contact Bookends and Beginnings at 224-999-7722.

Thursday, Oct. 9

6 to 7:30 p.m.

1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #1, Evanston

bookendsandbeginnings.com

and yet another marvel:

Slowing Time Reading and Conversation and Autumnal Joys

Women & Children First, a Chicago literary landmark in magnificent Andersonville, is hosting a reading, conversation and celebration of autumn, Season of Awe.

Wednesday, Oct. 29

7:30 p.m.

North Clark Street, Chicago, IL

womenandchildrenfirst.com

more readings to come…..stay tuned.

and now a question: how do you slow time? (oh, and what will be your crumb of choice to spill onto the pages and clutter the book binding gulley?)

slowing time cover

goodbye to white-on-black

oh my goodness. i am filled to the brim here today, as i type these white keys on the black page. chalk to the chalkboard i always thought of it. all these five years, two months, two weeks and five days.

oh, i’ve heard grumbles now and then. hard to see. makes folks eyes do the wazzle-dazzle, which means the albino letters get all wobbly, do a dance on the black velvet curtain, and it’s impossible to read.

i’ve always found it homey. but then i like cloudy days, a gray november day is some of God’s best artwork, far as i’m concerned.

so it’ll be a bit like taking off the sunglasses when we up and move over the weekend. when we kiss iWeb goodbye, this lovely little paintset that all these years has let me play here, write my heart out, let you join in on the hearty conversation.

in the nine gazillion changes underfoot, i found out not so long ago (where was i when the smoke signals went up?) that ol’ iWeb will soon be obsolete, and mobileMe, the cloud that carries the chair to all your houses, it is evaporating come summer.

it’s pretty much like finding a bright orange eviction notice slapped on your front door. or parking in some illicit spot downtown and finding a big ol’ chicago police department clamp on your back right wheel. while you were away, the sheriff came and booted you.

so as long as i was leaping out of airplanes in the last few weeks, i decided now’s the time to make the one last leap. we are moving, you and i and all our chairs and the kitchen table too. and worry not, i won’t forget the old milk pitcher, the cracked one up above. i’ll haul it along. with all the coffee mugs and spoons.

all you have to do is ring the same old doorbell. i’ll be there, waiting on the other end.

i’ve been doing all the packing for the last few days. trying to make it all cozy over in the new place. the walls are white. and some of you — though you’re not here reading, because you told me long long ago that you would not read a place where words come out all chalky white on slate — well some of you will be tickled to learn that the new place believes in black letters on white walls. just like in the old days, when you could count on ink getting smeared all over your mitts as you read the morning’s news.

i up and moved — with MAJOR assist from the chief technical saint, my little brother bri, who swooped on a cape and saved the day when i thought the chair was forever lost — every last one of the 523 daily meanders that have meandered here, and soon as i’m done with this one, making it a neat 524, i’ll carry this one over there too. sort of like when the moving van takes all the big stuff, and you throw one last lamp there beside you in the passenger seat, lest it get left behind.

it might take a while to get the curtains up, to make it all pretty again. for one thing i have a full 524 photos to move, one by one. and somehow the paragraph indentations all got lost. can you even begin to guess how many paragraphs need to be indented? oh lord, does anyone know a 1-800 listing for the paragraph patrol?

as with any move, i’m a bowl of floopy noodles over here. part of me is sad to leave this place that’s been such a fine home for me, and my heart. and the words that spill here.

this ol’ house was built with and by my sweet college boy. back when he was just an eighth-grader. i loved the way he sat down that long ago december’s night, and started poking buttons and next thing i knew he had me shoved out the window and onto the blogosphere.

where would we be without the ones who push us from behind when we don’t realize how very much we need the shove?

i might walk around one last time. peek in corners i’ve not seen in a long long time. wipe off the last of the cobwebs, then take one big brave breath, and pull the shades.

there’s a new place waiting for all of us to pull up chairs. and it’s a spiffy place. it’s got tricks and marvels i can’t begin to grasp. not yet anyway.

for starters, i don’t think you’ll ever be tangled again in the darn comment snags, the ones here on iWeb that sometimes let you pipe up and add your thoughts, and sometimes kept you banging on the window, trying to get someone to let you in.

i never much like change. i could wear the same old pair of slippers till my big toe pokes through (and it is, even as i type). i wouldn’t notice if a rug was worn to the threads. it’d be the same old beautiful rug it was the day i brought it home.

so this moving thing gives me the wobbles too. and i’m all worried you won’t find it cozy. but it’s clean. and we’ll all be together. and the coffee will never stop percolating there on the cookstove.

give me a wee bit of time to gussy it up.

and stick with me.

the other night, when i thought the chair was lost, when i thought our zillions of heart beats shared would never ever see the light of day, i cried myself to sleep. real tears. poured onto my pillow.

oh, sure, these are just computer keys that i push down with the pads of my fingers. but you all know the secret: they are wired straight to the nerve center of my heart.

this is all virtual, indeed. but what spins from here is as real as anything i have ever known. and it is propelling me, keeping me airborne.

so that’s it.

just one last thing: have i told you lately that with all my heart and all my soul, thanks for coming all these years.
now, let me grab the coffee and let’s get goin’ down the lane. we’ll make it just right. i promise.

love, the chair lady

housekeeping: you have nothing to do, nothing to change. the tech committee and i will get the phones changed, the new mailbox hung. just find the chair the old way, pullupachair.org
you’ll find us, wherever we are….
and i’ll be waiting…

five. really?!?

the little guy was polishing off his morning plate of eggnog french toast this snow-dusted day, when i went and struck a match. lit up that burning five, the one you see above, and plunked it in a plate of merry-sprinkled cookies.

burning plates in early morn apparently get his attention.

“why five?” he asked, not beating round the bush.

“the chair is five,” i said.

“today?” he asked.

“actually, it will be monday. but it’s five years of fridays,” i said with a number girl’s precision.

“that’s big,” he said.

i agree. quite heartfully.

i think back to december 12, 2006. i was the mother of a 13-year-old who had recently broken his neck, and a 5-year-old in kindergarten. i typed from home, not yet called back to the mothership of the newspaper where i’ve told stories for 29 years now.

i’d discovered somewhere along the way that i secretly hummed when it came to the homefront.

i knew i loved the heart and soul that upholsters every richly built dwelling place, be it cottage in the woods, or an old gray-shingled house with a birds’ nook built into the eaves. the garden, for me, had always been holy ground. the kitchen, a place that drew me. and being a mother absorbed me, in the truest ways. of these things, i thought deep and often. though none of them out loud. not much anyway.

but then came a starry december’s night.

i’d been prompted by my firstborn, who could wield a mouse, a keyboard and its contents with head-turning amazements.

“you should do a blog,” he said, shoving me into the deep end from the tentative edge of the pool.

“here, i’ll make your website,” he offered, putting off some 8th-grade algebra to make his mama purr.

it’s not every night your kid turns his imaginative powers your direction, and when he does, you haul over a chair and play along.

and that’s pretty much how i got here. i found a site, with a name that spoke to me, and down in the wee corner, it was copyrighted to me.

i had little choice but to begin to type.

every week day for a year, then every friday for the next four. which brings us to today. the three-day-early birthday. but when you get to five, who is counting minutes? who’s keeping track in such compulsive ways?

for all of you who’ve been here for all five years, i have a special row of chairs for you. right here, in the deepest chamber of my heart.

some of you are among my dearest, on the screen and off. some of you, though, became my dear beloved friends simply through the act of clicking, which in blog terms amounts to listening.

and listening is the thing.

because, really, all we want, most of us, is to be heard. whether our words come out in whispers or full-throttle proclamations, we are looking to find a few inches on the world stage where what we wonder, what we believe, matters.

world stage, of course, does not mean we seek a microphone and podium. sometimes the choicest stage is the one where someone sits across from us, and nods in rapt attention. is that not what’s at the heart of most every child’s prayer? someone, listen, please.

and so i whisper here.

not all of you whisper back, but for those of you who do, who’ve put down your own stories, who’ve wiped away a tear and let me know, who’ve joined the conversation, raised a question, turned a story upside down to discover something altogether new, i’ve another row of chairs for you, and those have padded seats.

i never asked to be a writer. i just discovered, early on, that making words and paragraphs was the closest thing to humming my heart knew how to do.

all my life i’ve written. all my life my words have flowed from deep within my heart. i can’t seem to help it.

it’s not that i’m not compelled to get my story out, but to unearth all the touchpoints, where yours and mine are intertwined, where we discover more about who we are, and this path we try to navigate, by putting words to inklings, by giving form to prayers that have not made a sound until we typed them out.

in the five years that this table has been set, so much has changed: the blogosphere, now, is a very crowded place, and i know how rare, how hard it is for anyone to carve out time to visit. my hope that this might have opened some unmarked door, the pages of a book, it did not take flight.

instead, the steady pounding of my fingers on the keys brought me a circle of voices who i know–without fanfare or applause–see the world in ways that are not unlike mine.

and most of all, and best of all, i have left a record for my boys of how deeply, purely, vastly they’ve been loved. and i’ve captured priceless snapshots from the pages of their lives, how one grew up, went off to college, and how the other melted us like butter.

i’ve discovered, deep and true, a voice that comes from miles within. and i’ve learned not to be afraid, to speak it as i live it.

it’s not an easy thing to write from your heart. not an easy thing to have your heart be questioned, tested, singed.

five years is a solid sum. and i think it satisfies my urge to complete what i’d begun. writing every friday is surely in my rhythms. but maybe now i’ll change it up. perhaps i’ll post some of what i write for the newspaper, for now they let me write there in ways i write here too.

perhaps i’ll be silent on a friday. because silence is a skill, a prayer form all its own.

what matters most is for all of you who get to here, to these holy sacred words, thank you. bless you. in ways you and i might never know. i am casting out my sparks of light, and trusting that in some form they’ll land upon your heart, and burn an everlasting flame.

know that yours forever burn in mine.

amen. and bless you.

chair unplugged

brave new world here. scary world. trembly-fingered world.

so, the old computer goes kerpluey, all but sends up sparks, sends me scrambling for the nearest 9-1-1. only, i find out, the firetrucks don’t come when it’s megabytes that smolder.

you are left to fend for your sorry self. you pack up what’s left of the old white box. you haul it off to the resuscitation station– a.k.a., the mall.

once there, you are convinced, by general consensus and the nice man at the apple store, that it’s time to drop the leash, venture forth.

or, in my particular case, time to leave behind the little room and the old pine desk where i’ve typed long as there’s been a chair. and long before, truth be told.

why, there were cobwebs tied up with all the cords that tangled at my feet.

pull the plug, the un-plugged pleaded.

be bold and seize the world, as defined by the flat rectangle that is the laptop. the digital universe no bigger than a magazine, and not a page-y one, either.

now, mind you, i’m not big on shaking up my world. i picture a giant 20-liter bottle, shaken, top unscrewed, and fizzies fizz all over creation. splatter the walls, splot the ceiling. you’re left to spend the day mopping up sugar-fizzing beads.

just now, egad, i discovered that the comments from last week are gone, ka-poof! how dare they. and all the little boxes of the entire history of the chair have turned, like litmus paper, or home pregnancy tests, from blue to red. does that mean that i am just about to erase the entire record of the chair? will this be but memory, and fuzzy one at that?

of course i’ve no technical support team here at chair headquarters. that particular committee up and grew. has left me to fend, again, for myself. he’s off rowing down a river, and here i am, on the banks, waving white flag, red flag, any old hankie i can find bunched up in the backpack that is always dangling from my back.

ah well, back to business: if all goes up in smoke, we’ll bow our heads and whisper words for the departed dream.

i get to be existential about the cybersphere. does it exist, at all, if it can be wiped out with the wrong stroke of a key? does it matter? and if it goes, it was all just words, right? and much much heart.

gulp.

so much for the wobbly part of this equation. the not-so-wobbly part is that here i sit, at the kitchen table in the kitchen i so love. the heartbeat of my make-believe farmhouse. i look out and see the birds–only thing is, today it’s squawky starlings who’ve moved in, taken over the limbs of every bush and tree in sight. i’m thinking alfred hitchcock might be out there somewhere, panning with his lens, remaking his scary horror flick, “the birds.”

for years now, writer friends and not-so-writerly friends have expressed pure shock that i, a would-be writer, was tethered to a plug-in writing pad. you don’t have a laptop, they’d practically gasp.

well, no, i didn’t. not till now.

i have long longed to feel the eastern sunlight streaming in, to be closer to the tick and tock of the old clocks that syncopate this room, to keep watch of the flutterings of the birds as i think and type.

question is, is this the start of a bigger unplugging in my life, as i look at paths ahead, decide which one i might take. i know the spot in the woods i want to get to. but getting there is not without bumps, not without wobbly steps.

maybe this is but the first, maybe it’s practice, dress rehearsal for the play called life.

surely, the day-to-day is smoother when we don’t shake things up. but is it better? is it wise to keep the course as is, when all around we sense it might be time to stir things up, to take the one big giant step? to hold our breath and leap?

as i ponder that, i might just take a deep breath in, push the publish button and see what happens. we’ll all know soon enough. if you see this, the great leap worked. if not…..

time to get out the pen and paper and start all over once again.

what big bold scary steps have you taken lately? and fear not, i will get that comment string back on last week’s meander…….oh dear. wish us luck….

the other blog in this ol’ house

maybe it’s because we shared a glass. maybe it has something to do with sleeping on the same sheets for the past 18 months. (oh, i mean i changed the sheets and all, but even when i did our arms and legs were still stretched out on common threads). egad, we might have even touched. our toes, i mean our toes.

what’s happened, though, is most peculiar. i once resided with a fellow who harumphed at the notion of a blog. i still recall him–quite vividly, in fact–with his gray hooded sweatshirt pulled up and past his ears, sitting at the banged-up kitchen table one dreary weekday morn, spooning little Os into his mouth, while i pranced by with camera.

“i will not be blogged,” he bellowed. and i of course demurred. i’ve only once or twice trespassed across that line–and that was to make nice. and he, of course, responded with a mighty grin.

but now, it seems the anti-blogger has come around, crossed over to the dark side. why, even as i type, he is on a train tap-tapping at his keys.

stranger than fiction, truer than truth, we are now a two-blog household.

he of course is blogging boldly, about that thing he loves, the size and shapes of towers, and how we build our cities. i too write of that i love, the little things that unfold around us, our hearts, our souls, our wings, our stumbles.

seems he’s taken rather quickly to this whole new world of laying it on the line (he seems to lay it nearly every hour, on the hour). and seems the world is taking rather quickly, too, to every word he writes.

there is irony aplenty here, so much in fact, i need to scrape it off the walls. but i’ll leave all of that to your imagination.

i’ll offer these few points:

you’ll get a chuckle, yes indeed, at the fact that weeks ago he was moaning–over mashed potatoes, if i recall–that there might come a day when he’d get merely 10,000 to 20,000 hits.

i choked, i really did, nearly spit my spuds across the table. thought of all the mornings i arose before the rooster even crowed. i realized, i did, that in 18 months of all this finger exercise i’d only just barely scraped the 20,000 mark (and half of those i fear, were me simply clicking past the chair, on the way to other places).

in fact, just the other day, his first official day, he clocked a stunning 6,000-something clicks. i did a little checking, flipped through the pages of my calendar, where i confess i scribble all my clicks on the days that i hit “publish.” took me, for example, from aug. 24 to dec. 10–a full 14 weeks, or 76 meanders–to get that many clicks. and his were on the single day he launched, for cryin’ out loud.

oh, not that i’m comparing. not that i’m feeling one bit, um, overshadowed.

just that well, after all of this, i am now the other blog in this ol’ house.

mostly, i sit in pure amazement at the power of the internet, when it knows where to find you. i scratch my head, trying to figure out just why it is you and me might be the only ones who visit here today.

just a week or so ago, i was getting up at my most delicious hour–that would be five bells from the noisy clock downstairs–and the stretched-out someone right beside me, groggily inquired as i rose, “getting up to blog?”

“no, merely writing in obscurity,” i shot back, quite proud of my early morning sense of humor.

it’s not every woman who can a.) take the dismal comparison, and b.) find something still to laugh about.

so there you have it.

fact is, i more than many on the planet understand the yins and yangs of feeding this here blogging beast. i know what it is to worry all the time, to wake up in a sweat, to wonder who might think that you’re a fool, and, worst of worst, what in the world will you do if, at any hour, the computer won’t turn on.

fact is, as always, he is doing a mighty job. i would not be lying if i said that long ago i fell in love, in part, with just how much he cares, and how triumphantly he makes it matter.

i worry of course that once again he works too hard. and frets too much.

of course, i understand the bumps and bruises, and the exhaustion to the point of flopping to the floor.

what i don’t get is how in the world can it be a bad day when you only get 10,000 hits?

dearly beloved loyal readers, bless you–all three of you–who continue to come back for more. ‘twas too tempting a morsel to pass up this chance to poke a little tease at me and my beloved blogger. here’s hoping it is tossed and caught in the same shared jovial spirit. truth is, in these fretful newsprint times, i stand up and applaud anything that draws a reader. and so i wish the hooded one smooth soaring to the highest heights. i’ll be here, holdin’ down the fort. a job i attempt to manage…..
p.s. the photo up above is the smiling picture of the author of
the skyline, the latest blog wholly endorsed by the chicago tribune. they ran a lovely post about it earlier this week. seems they recognize a good thing when it’s in their grasp.