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Category: fear

holding hands

it’s been a long time since i leapt off the high dive, felt the whoosh of my body — bare skin, wet suit — free-falling through air.

it’s been a long long time since i last mustered the courage, flung myself out into the unknown.

but, i was reminding myself, i’ve done it plenty before.

i can do this.

there was the time, long long ago, when my mama and papa drove me downtown. to the hospital, they told me. you are going to get better, they told me. and i did. but not before being scared out of my wits.

and there were long nights in college when i had no clue where i was headed. but one saturday night in the library i decided i knew. and i decided that to get there i was going to snare myself a solid line of straight As. so i did.

there was the night my papa died. and i never wanted to exhale the breath in my lungs from before he was gone. could not bear to take in a swallow of this new oxygen, depleted of the great love of my life at the time, my hero, my papa.

but i did.

not too many weeks after that i picked up a telephone and told a man on the other end of the line that i was a nurse, but i wondered if maybe they’d have room in their school to teach me a thing or two about writing.

he did. so i did.

and then, not long after that, i walked into the great gothic tower of a newspaper i’d grown up reading. i bumped into a fellow who wore purple high-top tennis shoes, and spilled chunks of oil-drenched salad all over the pages, my pages, that sat on his lap. he read along, looked up, said, “i think i can use this.” i let out a yelp. said, “i think you just made my life.”

not long after that, the lady in charge of plucking recruits out of the masses, enlisting them in the summer army of interns, she called me up, called me in for an interview. last thing she said to me in that tiny broom closet of an interview room was this: “around here, you sink or swim.” i looked her straight in the eye and said, plainly, “i’m a swimmer.”

and so it’s gone, over and over and over again.

we forget sometimes, until we need to remember, just how brave we can be.

and then, once we remember, the oddest most curious things start to happen.

once we stare our fears in the eye, once we decide, okay, universe, we’re not going to be bound anymore. not going to stand here, frozen in time and space, thinking of all the things that could go wrong, might go wrong. we’re going to step off this ledge, and try that free-falling move once again.

once we do that, just as goethe, the great german philosopher, long ago said, “at the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to support us.”

in other words, all around, from out of the darkness, folks start extending a hand. taking our shaky one in theirs, and holding it soft and tight.

the phone starts ringing, and people say things that give you tingles up your spine. because how did they know–out of the blue–that you needed to hear those very words at that very moment?

emails pop into your mailbox. and you click here or there, not really thinking what you’re doing, and next thing you know you are reading something that slides right sweet into the place where you needed it to be.

might be that the fellow you married — a guy known to be plenty cautious and not keen on rash, irrational moves, pretty much the life-long grounding rod for your high-wire act — keeps telling you you’re doing the right thing.

might be your 10-year-old boy, who lets out a whoop, pipes up during dinnertime prayers, “dear God, thank you for the bravest mommy there ever was.”

trust me, i’m not launching myself into space. not about to set up a colony on the moon. not tackling a cure for cancer.

just putting one foot in front of the other.

but, for the first time in a long time, headed in the direction of my heart. instead of the way that’s been slow-dripping, leeching the pink right out of my cheeks.

and once i got through the talking to myself, reminding myself i’ve moved my own personal mountains before, i have been utterly and joyfully buoyed by the power, the knowledge, the wisdom, of the universe to make like a marvelous tunnel of hands and hearts, each one reaching out, giving me the nudge, the squeeze, the full-throttle embrace i need to keep this free-fall from feeling like a death-dive.

instead, i am slowly, solidly, catching the wind.

and one of these days, i just might look down and realize i’ve started to soar.

what a bummer. can’t let you in on specifics. not yet. will when i can. but in the meantime, what freefalls have you knowingly, bravely, stepped into in your life, and who were the great good souls who reached out and let you know you were going to be all right, and no one was letting you splat flat on your face? what are your moments of personal courage?

shaky all around

the news seeping into my little world isn’t so swell these days. nothin’ at all to do with today being that unlucky friday. phooey, i say to that. that’s ol’ superstition. and superstitious i’m not. not so much, anyway.

i’m talking about the front page of the paper. and, lately, the business page, too. they’re the ones spelling out the downs and the more downs; whole columns of type, sprinkled with words like recession, inflation, and war that won’t end.

oh, and bosses at work being shown to the door. and other ones, new ones, saying they don’t like what we do. and we don’t do enough. and, oh, by the way, they’re cutting the pages, and the numbers of people paid to fill the ones left.

all sorts of talk, all day in the newsroom, about what’s going to happen, and who’s going to leave. anyone left, we all wonder, still reading the news? anyone left who loves turning a page, not knowing just where your fancy might land, soaking up something wholly brand new you might never have known? getting grabbed by a photo, or maybe a headline. seeing a byline, sinking into the words of a friend you’ve not ever met but feel that you’ve known for ever and ever.

it’s all very shaky. and it’s not only newspapers.

here in the village where i now mostly walk, or pedal my bike, to save the gas in my tank, i see houses for sale. hear stories of folks needing to move.

i know my dear friend the breadman isn’t baking so much. because no one is buying quite so much anymore. and cash registers, all over town, seem to be rigged with an odd little button that makes all of the totals twice what they were.

even at home, there are reasons to worry. the tall one is stiff, with a pain in his back. and all of us grownups, on pins and on needles.

so what do i do when it’s shaky all over, when the world at my door gets blurry and buzzes and is all out of sorts?

i crank up the dial on the parts of my life that matter the most.

i pay attention to what i’m cooking for dinner. i set the table with just a little more care. i cut more and more peonies from out in the garden. i tuck them there by the bedside, even in rooms strewn with little boy’s clothes.

i walk to the library. i sit with my sweet little starting-out reader. we pluck books, chapter books now, from shelf after shelf, whole piles too heavy for one of us only. we take turns with each chapter. we take turns with the book bag. sometimes, each one of us takes one of the handles. we lug it together.

i buy pie for no reason. i promise to learn to make my own crust. i snip herbs from the garden, snip with abandon. it’s summertime now and i needn’t be stingy.

i work in the garden. i pull weeds and more weeds. i stand back and admire the one-inch-by-one-inch that‘s finally weedless.

i sit on the stoop. i let ice melt on my tongue. we stuff chocolate-chip cones with mint-chocolate ice cream. then, for no reason, really, except for the joy of redundance, we sprinkle jimmies on top, those bit-lets of bite-able sugar. then we try not to bite, but only to lick. not once have we made it, not once without biting. these are the games that we play when we play for no reason, ’cept for the pure joy of playing at play.

as the world around me feels all very shaky, i sink deeper and deeper into what i love most, on a scale that gets smaller and closer to home, closer to heart.

it’s almost, you might want to think, like whistling in the dark. only that’s not what it is if you look from the soul side. it’s whistling, all right, but with very deep roots.

it’s the whistling of grownups old enough and wise enough, and humble enough, to know that the whole of the world we most likely can’t change.

but we can keep the ones that we love from feeling the bumps and the worries, from noticing that all around the edge of this boat, the waters are sloshing, are getting quite queazy.

we can make this place we call home a fine and true respite. the place we come back to, because it soothes us and calms us. because in a thousand small ways, we can dust off the dirt, and polish the places that just might maybe shine.

we might not steal headlines. we might not cinch deals. we might not be brokers of peace ’round the globe.

but what we do with our days, and our hours and minutes, just might make the difference in just a few blessed lives.

and those lives, some of them, were handed to us, for just a short time, really and truly.

someone wiser and truer than i’ll ever be, someone infinite, someone you maybe call God whispered once upon a time, spoke to each of our hearts. said, this is my beloved, and this is yours, too. i’ve breathed in a life, i’ve sculpted with love. it’s your job, should you so choose, to cradle, to take by the hand, to teach the words and the poems and the stories. to tuck into bed with a prayer, to draw tight the sheets. to kiss sweet blessed heads, and send dreams off to dreamland.

give the gift of your calm. give the gift of your grace. give laughter. give whimsy. give ice cream with sprinkles.
make each hour count.

make it be simple. make it be rich.

and then that Someone reached out and gave us our loves.

a wise friend of mine tallied the world as some of our children have lived it: 9/11, afghanistan, iraq, columbine. then there’s tsunami, new orleans under water, virginia tech, and gas at 4-plus-bucks-a-gallon. and, sure as heck, i’m leaving out a thing or two that’s kept you awake.

now, in grade school and high school, even in pre-school, they practice drills year after year, in case of intruders. our cold-war atomic-bomb scares replaced with very real fears that a classmate, or passing-by kook, could burst through the door, carrying guns.

some nights, as i lie in my bed, whispering prayers, and begging for mercy, i ask for a cloak of untattered peace to fall on my house.

and then i wake up, and give it the whole of my heart: i crank up the oven, i tuck in a pan of cinnamon rolls. i wait for the sound of the feet that i know. the big ones and little ones. even the cat’s.

and i do what i think i do best: with all of my might, i aim to sew even though i can’t thread a needle (not anymore anyway, not without my old-lady glasses). i stitch this old house with gracenotes of beauty, and fumble for even a loose knot of calm. i pay attention to nooks and to crannies no one might notice. i iron out wrinkles. i wring out the worries.

it’s called housework. and mine is of and for the soul.

i owe it, i do. to the ones whose everyday stories are being inscribed at my old kitchen table.

and besides, long long ago, i promised: dear God, bless me with life, and i’ll make it most noble.

how do you make your world a little bit calmer, a little bit richer, when all around it feels like the walls are starting to crumble?