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Category: restorative powers

trying to stay sane in the summer of 2018

front page NYT

well, there’s a bold proclamation, trying to stay sane in an unrelenting summer.

sanity, defined: teetering on that knife’s-blade edge between despair and shards of hope, listing away from full-on darkness, into the atmosphere where breath comes in full-enough cycles, where dreams have not lost all their air, where the few fine words you choose to speak are ones that rise up from the holier parts inside.

and how to get there, in a summer that each day brings onslaught of ugly news, the latest being the riddling of a newsroom with bullets, and yet another crop of americans now shattered for the rest of their days? that’s a question that animates so many of the soulful moments, soulful conversations i’ve been having.

what i ache to do is just plain fix it. that’s my auto-pilot. in some corners of my life, when things are broken, i leap into action. stay up all night till i get the glue to set just right, trace my way to the ends of the earth (or the internet) till i track down replacement for whatever object has gone missing.

in this particular instance the things i want to do — lock up the bullies, throw away the keys; turn back time to just before the bullets flew; wrap my arms around the little children, look them in the eye, and promise them i’ll find them their mamas and their papas and the ones who keep them safe — i can’t. my superpowers seem to have expired. they were never more than make-believe anyway.

am i fooling my sorry little self to think the most i can do is keep the circle within which i live a sphere where the light keeps burning, where the words stay gentle, where i check myself and aim to turn the other cheek, not spout the sharp retort, steer away from hornets’ nests of hate, or just plain grumbly folk? where i ought to try even harder to make this old house a respite, a hive of rooms where kids are free to romp, where i don’t nag about the silly things — the clothes in heaps, the stinky soccer bag, the chores undone? where my most important job might be to be the peace-filled center, the one who models “this is how we love”?

as i so often do when things need to get done — and here, the task is hewing toward some measure of sanity — i’m making a list. these few things have brought some semblance of serenity, some anchor in the roiling seas.

  1. i’ve found a little chapel, a sacred space with a carved-wood door at the end of a stone walk that meanders through a shady garden. inside the vaulting rooms, at the foot of the gilded altar, i listen to the words of oxford-educated men and women — yes, women here are priests — and i am emboldened, reminded of what matters, and called to action, holy action. as a lifelong believer in a hundred roads to God, i pay no mind to what the signpost names the church, all i know is what’s inside is stirring me to tears, and, sunday after sunday, taking my whole breath away. better yet, it gives me words so delicious, so must-be-remembered, i’m wont to surreptitiously reach for and scribble in the blank little book i keep tucked in my backpack, and this holy, wholly animating place sends me home with thoughts to percolate all week.
  2. i’ve somehow been pulled into the mists of history, my ancestral history. i can spend hours tracing family roots, poring over news pages from long long ago. i’ve read of a great uncle struck and killed by lightning, when he ran for cover in his tobacco barn during a summer storm of biblical proportion. i’ve read of my grandpa’s first wife (and the mother of their four young children) dying in childbirth on christmas day. and another uncle — the one who tried to resuscitate his lightning-struck brother — dying years later of cirrhosis of the liver. i’ve absorbed the truth that life is hard and, when we’re blessed, we survive — banged up, dented, hobbling along, but somehow we gather up just enough to watch the sun rise and sink again.
  3. i spend a lot of time with my toes in the dirt, out in my garden fully armed with felcro pruners, and trowel, and twine. there is sustenance to be had in nursing limp leaves back to full salute, in chasing down a runaway clematis vine or a tomato plant that’s reaching for the clouds. it’s quiet out there, save for the chatter of the birds, and the occasional butterfly who flutters by me so unassuming he barely moves the breeze.
  4. i read. and read some more. my job for work, as i’ve said here some dozen times, is to read for soulfulness. that’s my assignment: find books that stir the soul. and the occupational by-product is that my soul gets stirred before i pass along the revelation. this week, ol’ jimmy carter, 39th president and peanut farmer, did some stirring. before i go, i’ll leave you with this one passage that reminds me good will come again. it’s our job to seek out those few fine souls whose moral compass never wavers, whose goodness is so good our knees go weak just watching. here’s what our cardigan-wearing, energy-saving president spoke in a 1978 address to his fellow southern baptists:

“A country will have authority and influence because of moral factors, not its military strength; because it can be humble and not blatant and arrogant; because our people and our country want to serve others and not dominate others. And a nation without morality will soon lose its influence around the world.”

how do you strain to stay sane in this soul-testing summer?

necessary harbingers

harbingers (1)

it hits me mid-morning, when i notice the light streaming in the grimy windowpanes, the panes streaked from winter wear and tear, when i notice the light has shifted toward its vernal blue. there is an undertone in spring, the light all but reaches out and wraps my shivering shoulders, the light promises: “you will breathe again. you will bask one day soon.”

so too the crust of earth. it breaks open in the early morning hours, once the thaw gives way, and only in certain patches, the ones where sunlight falls undiluted. that’s where soil softens, and insistent bulge of stem nudges through. not unlike that baby’s head crowning through the birth canal, that nub of newborn green exerts invisible, unrelenting force. it wants to breathe. it strains to make it to the light.

we strain too. we strain this time of year.

and so the earth and sky join forces, the earth and sky and their inhabitants, they give all they’ve got — full moon, sunrise streaks of tourmaline and tangerine, morning song arising from the robin’s throat — they dial it up a notch, a holy notch. they must sense that we’re inching toward end-of-winter full surrender. and if not for their employ, if not for their emphatic labors we might, well, shrivel into tight-wad commas, curl up and call time out.

to catch the earth in the act, in eternal sacred act, you need to pay close attention. need to all but rub your nose along the thawing garden fringe. but when you do, when you inspect the earth’s perimeter, the rim where underworld meets all the rest, you feel your heart go pit-a-pat at every rising quarter inch. in one wee patch along my bluestone walk, a patch where sunshine lands from 10 bells till sometime after two, the little nubs have sprouted frilly collars, have unfurled lemon-yellow petals, and emerged into a borderless swath of hope. they are the necessary harbingers, the first-line rescue squad. the ones the earth sends out to meet the winter’s end, and beckon coming spring. there they lie, morning, noon and even into night: my cheery patch of promise. as if the earth is sending up a lifeline, begging us to not surrender, not throw in the trowel, hold onto hope for just a minute longer.

at about this moment in history, this sorry moment at the end of winter’s hibernation and the daily dirge of downbeat news, when all the earth seems awash in gray and drab, we human species, we need a jolt. we crave a heavenly injection, a many-colored cloak to shake us from our doldrum. and, after these millennia of shared inhabitation, the earth — in all her glory — she gives and gives what we so deeply need.

earth, so often dispatched to be the messenger from heaven. earth, without a single word, pulses with life-saving, soul-searing homily and, in time, the hallelujah.

all earth asks is that we listen, is that we open wide the pores. earth and heaven will indulge us. will bathe us in a holy light, in skies awash in pink, in flutterings of wing, and stem and bloom that will not, will not, shrink from vernal task: to whisper the coming once again of hope.

holy hallelujah.

daffydills

what signs of hope have tickled your consciousness this week?

bee balm

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maybe, in a week like this one, being mesmerized by a bumblebee is not so much distraction as act of mercy. for the broken heart. for the heart that cannot quite absorb the rat-a-tat of horrors. for the narratives that began to emerge from the bathroom stalls of a nightclub in orlando, where the scenes painted in the tellings were nearly impossible to fathom. bodies piled atop bodies. playing dead. being dead. not knowing if the body atop you was a dead one. finding out later, it was.

you can see why bumblebees and old roses and the draw of the garden — nodding heads that begged for air, for sunlight, amid a stranglehold of weeds — you can see, perhaps, why, amid this particular week, the hours and the sunlight and the shadow, all lured me in. i couldn’t seem to keep away. i’d plant myself in front of screens: i’d watch, i’d click, i’d read. i’d gasp and gasp again. and then, while i had no intention of doing so, i’d find my toes sliding into muddy garden clogs, i’d find my fingers curled around the necks of clippers, and next thing i knew i was waist-high amid the weeds, snipping my way to clearer, purer oxygen.

it’s the power of the garden in a week like this one. when the balm of sun and breeze might root out the nettles that settle in our soul. when i begin to imagine sighs of relief rising up from flocks of old baptisia (otherwise known as “wild indigo”), because i’ve finally paid attention to the fact that they were suffocating under boughs of runaway lilac. when i might have heard a soft round of applause from the out-of-control clematis that begged for fortitude in the form of twine on which to climb, to reach for the clouds. i have a habit (you’ve just witnessed) of assigning voice and charm and personality to the growing things in my garden, at least i do when i begin to notice they’re out there, straining against the forces — the inattentions — that threaten to do them in. i suppose, truth be told, i tend to garden in two speeds: que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be); and ferociously. this week, ferocious was the speed.

whole spells of time — a morning here, an afternoon there — seemed to be swallowed up in the odd postures and contortions of gardening (no wonder stinky potions rubbed into achy joints are a gardener’s best ally). i seemed to lose whole portions of the day, and finally, the week, wrestling, lassoing, chasing after trespassers, calling beds to order.IMG_7742

and then, the occasional mama wren darted by. or the cardinals commenced a game of catch-me-if-you-can. and then the bumblebee. the zaftig bee in coat of velvet stripe. the bee that practically flies in freeze-frame slo-mo, hovering mid-breeze, playing eenie-meenie-minie-mo perhaps, deciding which tuffet of rose she’ll nuzzle into next. that old bee feasted on the rambling rose for a quarter of an hour (or that’s as long as i managed to keep watch, anyway).

i couldn’t shake the sense, somehow, that i was out there playing hooky, delicious hooky. why, i had books to read. sentences to type. piles of paper on my desk called to me.

but i couldn’t break the spell. the spell of taking time to sink my toes into the deliciousness of a summer’s day. a hot and sweaty day. or a cool and cloudy day. didn’t matter. it was only in the act of whole-body immersion, of flinging my old self into the elements — thorns that scratch, dirt that worms its way under fingernails and toenails, sun that beckons freckles to come out of hiding — that i was able to find a way to untangle the brokenness of my heart, to put a breath of pure soft air back into my lungs.

of course i know — full well — that it’s all just distraction. but somehow, deep in the ministrations of gardener to garden, of human hands to tender growing things, i found a way to exercise an urge to heal, to fix, to chase away the hurt, the ugliness, that had descended on the planet. day after day, hour upon hour, there comes darkness in forms we can’t imagine. and so we’re left with the scant few things we know, to bring back light. to sow seeds of tenderness and love. of holiness, perhaps.

to lose a day, or a week, upside down or sideways in the garden, is to find a thread that just might stitch us close to whole again. or at least steady us enough to tumble forward. till the next bee buzzes along. and once again we’re swept away by wonder, antidote to that which leaves us broken.

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mrs. bee has at the old and succulent rose.

what’s your healing thread, when you find yourself in tatters? 

holy ground

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from Pope Francis’ encyclical, June 2015, quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:
“It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”

in these hours when my heart feels hollowed, i find myself staring out windows, through panes of glass, into the garden, sweeping my eyes across the mostly fallow faded landscape. mostly, all i feel is empty. the thrum of a heart’s ache drowning out the usual song. but then, i fine-tune my attention, i look more closely. i am drawn out the door and into the rinse of springtime’s particular shade of sunlight.

it hurt, at first, to imagine this year’s garden absent its cheeriest animator, the old striped cat curled into his napping coil, occasionally opening an eye, giving chase to a robin, lumbering back to the spot where he crushes whatever nubs tried to grow beneath him.

but then i started to tiptoe down the bluestone walk. i plopped onto the stoop just beyond the kitchen door, beside the mailbox that holds all my garden tools. i looked for signs of life, of earth’s wintry crust breaking open, giving way, cleaving apart so the season’s first stirrings had room to trickle back to the surface, bursting forth.

more than any year in a long long time, this month of march has my fingers — and my heart — yearning to dig in the dirt. to brush away dried and shriveled grasses. to cut back stems and sticks that reach to nowhere. to nip and tuck and prune. to break apart the winter’s hard-pounded soil, to comb through clumps, sprinkle seeds, tuck in roots. to make way for the earth to bloom in the ways it so insistently blooms, hope-filled spring after long hard winter, again and again, year after year. no matter the pounding our hearts have taken.

it’s holy ground, the acres and acres that invite us in, to begin a close and careful examination. to witness the astonishments the earth offers up, offers forth.

IMG_7252and so, this Good Friday, this holy friday, i walk in silence, and i whisper the prayer of the earth once again unfurling in beauty. earth knows just how parched our soul might be in this the season of starting over again.

it’s the garden, the woodland, the gurgling of the winter’s thaw in the creek, these are the places that animate the coming back to life — of the earth, and the curled-up spirit within me. the one that just might find the courage to reach once again for the softness of springtime’s return.

i take to heart the words of dear pope francis, above quoting the patriarch bartholomew. i subscribe to the belief that God wrote the Book of Nature, and that each and every unfurling tendril, each and every bulb that shoots down roots and shoots up that periscope of green, each and every quivering of feather or leaf, it’s all here to whisper the presence of the Divine and Holy Wisdom. all we need do is plunk ourselves amid its quiet narrative, all we need do is pay attention, and the lessons and learnings will tumble upon us. breathe healing into our brokenness. breathe hope into our hollows. breathe, again and again, the story of resurrection, of life tiptoeing in to all the moments and places where we thought only death was left in the wake.

may this Good and holy Friday fill you with prayer. and with hope to wash away your deepest sorrow. should you prefer a more solemn meditation for this day of crucifixion, i offer this post from the past, the eloquence of silence.

how do you find hope in the shadow of your sorrow?

snowdrops

the magic of the tilo tree: the tree that soaks up sunshine and lives and breathes to soothe

tilo tree

for weeks now, through much of spring and into these early days of summer, i’ve been on high alert, awaiting the precise moment when a certain linden tree growing in a convent garden would at last decide it’s time. time to unfurl its yearly offering and erupt in honey-scented blossom.

i’d never been so blessed before, so blessed to be on linden-flower standby, so blessed to have a dear nun dialing my telephone, leaving dispatches from the nunnery, a trail of progress reports from the distal end of one tree’s branches. my tree-spotting sister friend would call every couple weeks, leave messages like this one: “it’s sister rita, calling about the linden tree. as soon as our tree wants to give us its delightful blossoms, i’ll call you.”

and then, a week or so later: “i just want you to know the little buds are finally on the tree. i’ll let you know when they open.”

it is a most delightful interlude, i tell you, to find yourself awash in messages about the blooming of a tree, a tree a friend of yours is counting on to heal her hurting ways, a tree that through the ages has long been believed to store the warming rays of sunshine in its star-burst blossoms. a tree that lives and breathes, quite purely, to soothe us through and through.

lindenflower

the linden tree’s honey-scented starbursts

as promised, sister rita wasted not a minute in the spreading of the long-awaited news. she called first thing the other morning. before the clock struck eight. she was on the line bright and early telling me the time had come. the linden tree was at last in bloom, and i needed to come soon, before the sacred blossoms tumbled to the ground, and we’d have to wait another year. the linden tree this year was late, deep into june, nearly july, before it became a froth of honey-dappled sweetness.

i’d be there by two o’clock, i promised. i’d rearrange the day. i’d not let the afternoon’s shadow stretch long across the garden.

the story of the linden tree, and its blessed blossom, traces back to the not-so-long-ago day in april when a dear friend and i ambled through a magic hedge. my friend has cancer, nasty cancer, and we were soaking up the day in the deepest prayerful way. as we ambled through the hedge on that april afternoon and came around a bend, we stumbled into yet another old friend of mine, one who knows his trees. my one friend’s eyes widened as she spied a broad-limbed specimen of tree, one whose branches stretched heavenward and cradled a warbling little bird besides.

upon introduction, both friends began to speak in spanish, words tumbling more and more feverishly. all i could make out was something about a mama, and something called “tilo.” turned out my friend saw the tree and suddenly remembered the one in her backyard when she was a little girl. it was a linden tree, and when she was afraid, or needed calming, her mama gathered up its blossoms and made her little girl a tea. the tea she called “tilo,” linden flower tea, an ancient balm for soothing nerves, and sweating out a fever. my friend these days is sometimes in need of soothing, deep-down soothing, and though her mama’s gone, the branches of the linden tree held out the hope of something she had thought she’d lost.

i’ll not forget her face and how it softened, nearly glowed, as she looked up at that tree, as i saw the pages of her life’s picturebook turn back in time, remembering her mama and the tea that soothed whatever ailed her.

turned out the very next morning — at the very hour my friend was once again submitting to a scan that would peer inside and chart the path of her stubborn cancer — i was visiting an old friend, an icon-painter friend, who flung open the door of her pantry, and asked if i’d like a cup of linden flower tea. now, i tell you, i’d not heard of linden flower tea till just the day before, and suddenly, within the circle of a single day, i’d bumped into it for the second time. i stood there slack-jawed, and stuttered through the story of how my ailing friend had longed for linden flower tea, but had no clue where she might find it, without her mama here to gather up its blooms, and steep the brew just the way she’d always brewed it.

because my icon-painter friend is the sort who knows no end to generosity, the box of linden flower tea was off the shelf and in my hands before i stumbled to the story’s end. i broke out in goosebumps as i glanced at the clock, and realized all this was happening precisely at the moment that the body scan began. i tapped out a message to my friend to say, guess what, i found linden flower tea, and i’m bringing it your way. and then my icon-painter friend told me that, even better than the box of pre-packaged tea, imported from turkey, she knew a convent not too far away where a linden tree spread its branches, and where she knew the nun who each year gathered up its blooms. my icon-painter friend promised me she’d put me and the nun in touch. and so she did (although she placed the call from a 400-year-old silo on a hillside in italy, where she’s gone to spend the summer painting) and that’s how sister rita and i joined in linden-flower watch, keeping vigil on bud to bloom to starburst.

in yet another wrinkle to the story, my friend with cancer hadn’t looked at her phone once she finished the scan that day, the last of april. instead she stopped by the office of a friend, and feeling achy in the belly, told the friend she had to leave to somehow, somewhere in this city, find herself a cup of tilo, the linden-flower tea for which she so suddenly deeply thirsted. it wasn’t too many minutes after that that she finally glanced at her phone and saw the message saying i had a miraculously stumbled upon a box of that very tilo and was driving it to her house.

within the hour, as we stumbled into each other’s arms on the sidewalk in front of her house, i told my friend about sister rita and the linden tree. enchanted, my friend and i have spent the last many weeks awaiting the tilo bloom. we’d planned to amble there together to gather up the blossoms, but the day sister rita called was not such a good day for my friend, so i scurried along alone. and there i met the radiant sister rita, who swiftly grabbed a crook-necked cane and thrust it into the branches thick with bloom. coaxed by sister rita’s gentle tug, the starbursts yielded to our reach. she handed me a scissor, and for the better part of half an hour, we snipped and gathered, and filled a grocery bag.

sister rita "canes" the linden tree

sister rita “canes” the linden tree

sister rita

sister rita

i ferried home our cache, and snipped for hours more. my mama joined in the snipping, as we gathered up the blossoms and left behind the branch and leaves. for days now, the linden bursts have been drying in a flat-bottomed basket, drying into tea. it won’t be long till we put the kettle on, boil up a cup or two of water, toss in a teaspoon of the linden flower offerings, and brew my friend the soothing tea that she’s so deeply longed for.

one last thing: when i sent my dear friend a note, with pictures of the harvest day with sister rita, my friend sent back a little note of her own, with just one question: “isn’t saint rita patron of impossible causes?”

she remembered that her mama always prayed to saint rita, always prayed to her when faced with the impossible. i swallowed back a tear or two, and offered up my own petition to saint rita. may impossibility be shattered, and the possible come shining through.

i cannot wait to inhale the vapors of that holy cup of tilo, and to lift it to heavens.

tilo drying

if you’ve a linden tree out your window, here’s how to make your tilo, once you gather up and dry your linden-flower blossoms: simply steep one teaspoon of the dried flowers in boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. drink up to three times a day. you’ll be soothed. while it’s been known for centuries to be a calming potion, please be cautious if you’ve a weakened heart. if in doubt, check with someone wise to the herbal apothecary.

if you’re not inclined to sip your soothing brew, you can bathe in it. here’s a recipe for a “relaxing evening linden-flower bath” (the name alone sets me to soothing): simply boil two to three handfuls of dried linden flower blossoms in a quart of water. strain your brew, pour it in the tub, and sink yourself in. 

might you have a magic tale to tell? one with holy vapors? one that stars a tree? do tell….

forced

forsythia snow

it’s come to this:

starved, hungry, every pore of our souls aching for release from the waning soot-sodden days of winter, i slide into sloppy old boots. clippers in hand, clippers that haven’t been shaken from their deep winter slumber in too long a while, i trudge across the ice-crusted snows. crunch-crunch goes the sound of my footfall. i pass bumper crops of pellets, rabbit pellets, i presume, and splashes of blood-orange whose origins i can’t bear to ponder. they’re the scant signs of life here in the tundra that is my back garden.

i’m on a mission. a mission to bring on an awakening, a seasonal awakening. and if i need to indulge in trickery, in prestidigitation with clippers, well then, that’s what i’m signed on to do.

it’s simple enough, this magic trick: trudge to your nearest forsythia bush, snip at the neck, all those long-limbed branches that, at this point in the year, look like little more than so many tangled sticks.

ah, but look and look closely: see the nubs tucked close to the stick, the tiniest hands clasped in prayer? those are the wee little blooms in the making, the sepal and stamen all huddled together, awaiting their cue. their cue of course comes from the sun, its angle and surge. any day now, the globe will have spun far enough, aligned us with just where we need to be for the vernal awakening.

but sometimes you just can’t wait. you need to get out there with clippers and boots and hurry it up, put gas to the seasonal pedal. (even when you preach the gospel of savoring the slow march of time.)

oh, there are signs that springtime is coming. they’re trickling in, a bit more by the day. i’ve heard it in birdsong. the birds aren’t checking their date books, aren’t awaiting the thaw. they’re warbling their vernal love-making hearts out, because that’s what you do when your DNA insists you perpetuate the species. you make it your job to whistle up an egg-laying mate. or at least someone with whom you can coo in the cold. and the light? the light is purer, less blue, more white. it’s straining to gather full steam — or something more zaftig than the pale arctic puff that’s kept us shivering in our cotton-lined boots.

my mama, of course, taught me this trick, and her mother before her, most likely. i might come from a long line of seasonal tricksters, miscreants of natural ilk.

it’s called forcing, and it’s plain old alchemy of life: warmth + water = blossoming. and it goes something like this: trudge. snip. fetch. plunk in water, warm water. wait. bloom. voila, you have forced.

i looked up the word force. it’s not pretty. it cropped up in the 14th century, with roots in old french. forcer, “conquer by violence.” egad. guilty as charged, me and my sharp-toothed clippers. too hungry to wait for the seasonal rotisserie to turn up its offerings in natural rhythm.

no, i had to conquer by violence, if snipping a branch at the neck is deemed a violent act (and if you were a bush you’d certainly say so).

and if dragged into the court of seasonal acceleration, i’d plea for a wee bit of compassion. i’d try to explain that here in the wee days of march, here when we’ve indulged in the season of winter with its depths and certain deprivations, we can’t help but respond to the seasonal tug, the one that pulls us, yanks us, into the next chapter. it’s akin to the itch that sometimes finds us leaping ahead in the steamiest novel, to peek at how the story unfolds, who marries whom in the end, and whose days are numbered.

my winter, you see, has taken a serious turn for the dregs in the last couple weeks. people i love are suffering, are scared, are facing the darkest of days.

i’m so itchy for light i won’t be surprised if i strip down to my bare naked legs and pull out a chair to soak up the lamest, the flimsiest of rays. in my snow-laden yard that would be.

but the light that i seek, truth be told, is the light that shines in the soul. illumination of the deepest kind. i pretty much stumble through days  — from hour to hour — with the words of my pleas and incantations rising up from my lips. there is so much to be prayed for. there’s so much at stake.

and that, in part, is what drew me to clomp through the snows, to clip what the old bush had offered. “here’s your rare chance at the promise of spring,” it whispered. and i answered. with clippers.

forsythia table

dear chairs, are you too going a bit batty by now? are you aching for the stirrings of spring? oh, for the day when the wee slips of green poke their hard heads through the soft crust of earth.

so what might be the seasonal rites and holy vespers you indulge in to beckon the resurgence of soul?

 

the day begins here…

day begins here vase blackeyed

before i’d even tumbled out of the bedsheets, i felt the low-down wobbles. happens sometimes. even on a morning when birds are in the boughs just beyond the window panes. it’s almost as if the sediment of whatever shattered in the day before is settling down, after a short night’s slumber, into the pits of your veins and your belly — and your knees, always the knees on a wobbly morning.

it’s almost as if, before your braincells awake, your body cells remember. they know there’s unsettling. they know the darkness rolled in before the day was done. needn’t be big things. sometimes the things that wake you up wobbling are simply a potage of rumbles and worries, spiced with bits of unwanted news.

once i’d splashed the cold water on my bed-wrinkled face, once i’d slipped into the shirt with the least number of holes in the elbows, i turned to tramp down the stairs.

there in the kitchen, the morning’s light awaited. the garden nodded, all dappled with dew drops.

i made a mistake in checking my phone: there lurked one of those emails you don’t want to find before the first gulp of coffee. but there it was, so i read it. and then, i glanced at the dining room table, all strewn with hundreds of pages and a fat red pen. i’ve a day of page proofing ahead of me. the last go-around with these pages that have seeped deep into my soul. these pages on which i whisper a prayer every time i begin again, start at the top, read through to the bottom, on alert, high alert, for typos and runaway commas.

i was now in high wobble.

so i did what any wobbly girl with sharp garden clippers would do: i walked straight out of the house where the wobbles had gathered, and i started to snip — the garden, that is. a long neck of yarrow here, black-eyed susans there. snip, snip, snip. next thing i knew i was clutching a fistful of august delight. and the wobbles weren’t so wobbly anymore. or at least for the moment, i’d buried my nose in the ticklish bouquet, and i wasn’t paying the wobbles much mind.

that’s what a holy morning can do for you. that’s the magic of ringing your old tired house with billows of bloom. folks driving by might think you grow bundles of things for the color, or the je ne sais quoi. ah, but you know. you know the secret: you are growing your very own apothecary out there. it’s all healing balm, and wobbly cures. it’s buoyant and tender, all at once.

it’s the deepest blessing of this holy earth: the power to heal what ails us, whatever it is.

all you need do to prompt it along is tuck a few roots deep in the dirt. then add sprinkles of rain. a few prayers and crossed fingers certainly help. never hurt. oh, and then you muster up patience. you wait. and you wait. and the globe spins around, and next thing you know it’s august, the launch of black-eyed susan season. the glorious crescendo of the midsummer garden. all the growing things — the yarrow, the hydrangea, the susans — they’re all rubbing shoulders, shoving and pushing to steal your attention. all they want is to stick out their necks, to bloom, to soak up some sunshine.

and what they give in return is pure bliss. gentle bliss. quiet bliss. a bliss that promises to bathe you in all that you’ll need to weather the day.

here’s the gardener’s pose of acceptance, accepting the gift of the garden: bend at the waist, stick your nose in the powdery parts where the yellow rubs off, now take a deep whiff, and reach for your clippers.

so it went this once-wobbly morning, when i marched out the door and into the billows, armed with my felco no. 2 clippers. i clipped and i snipped, and next thing i knew i was ready to face this fine day, not quite so wobbly this time.

what’s your garden doing to fortify you this fine day? and if not your garden, what’s your secret potion for facing a wobbly day? 

a bit of the backstory here is that i’m plowing my way through final page proofs, as that ol’ book, Slowing Time, has locked in its reservation with the printing presses, and is due to roll by the end of the month. that means every wiggle and blip on the page is demanding attention, lest it roll off the press, blips and bloops intact. 

power cord

week after week, i weigh the passing thought that i ought to set my alarm, oh, a good hour earlier than all the rest of the days so that i could slip out from under the sheets (for it is sheet, not cover weather these past few balmy days) and cloak myself in the velvet hours of night giving way to dawn.

so i could slither into my garden, curl up on the creaky bench, not unlike an inchworm in repose, and spy on all the doings of the morn.

i could, perhaps, watch the shrunken globes of dew catch firstlight, cast a hundred itty-bitty rainbows, a daily morning magic show for those who, like the robin and the cardinal, do not waste the dawn in slumber.

i could, if i was lucky, catch the fronds of fern unfurling, as the fiddleheads let loose their clenched-fist grip, give way to warming rays, awaken to the sun.

i might catch the first flash of golden yellow feathers, papa goldfinch, pecking at the thistle seed.

i might even be there to greet the hungry cat as he moseys back from all his midnight mischief, staggering ’round the garden bend, stopping for a slurpy drink from the mossy bowl where robins splash and preen.

the morning hours on a friday are the ones i call religion. oh, yes, i need to pack the lunches, chase the children out the door. there are chores aplenty all day long. but it’s the one day i set aside for meditation, planned meditation.

i might catch a snatch here or there, gazing out the windows of the el train as it rolls past a cemetery. or peering down an alley, watching a teetering old man picking through the garbage. i find time to stitch deep thoughts all throughout my week. but i don’t have unbroken time too often.

and that’s why i call friday mornings my very own three-pronged power cord.

i plug my soul back into the great generator in the sky. that sounds too flip, and i don’t mean it to be. it’s just that i hear the whispers of the divine when i am crouched down low to the earth in all her glory.

when i am wrapped in birdsong. when the saintly soprano of the wren sends shivers down my spine. when i am close enough to holiness itself to hear the rush of the blue jay’s wing as she flutters by.

when i am filling my lungs with the incense that wafts right now from my korean spice viburnum, a sacrament on branches if ever there was one.

some weeks by wednesday i am limping, grabbing hold of counters, trying to find my middle so i’ve half a chance of staying steady till the workday rushing ends, and before the mad-dash of the weekend reaches out to grab me by the throat.

through serendipity and schedules, friday is my sunday. the unfolding of my sabbath, the day when i drink in my strongest dose of why we’re plopped here in the first place.

for all the hurricanes and sirens that seem to whirl around me saturday through thursday, i am at heart a soul who needs a prayer shawl of quietude, to put my ear to the metronome of heaven here on earth.

i don’t want the breathing of the garden to be drowned out by what’s coursing through some squawky earphones. i don’t want to miss one inch of the slender stalks as they shimmy toward the clouds.

i want to be front-row witness to papa cardinal slipping sunflower seeds into mama cardinal’s beak, the closest thing to kissing, surely, in the feathered world of birds. i want to be the one who’s tiptoeing through the garden when the summer’s first monarch alights, the telltale stained-glass wings brushing by my nose.

and so if i don’t get my celestial dose before the house awakens, erupts in rushing-searching-slurping-dashing, i sit in solitude and bliss once the last dish is rinsed and put away, once the grocery list is scribbled, once the last bed is made, the pillow fluffed, the cat pulled out from hiding under someone’s covers.

it’s some cathedral the place in which i cast my prayers. a redbud branch is my domed ceiling. the lilies of the valley fill the choir loft. the wren’s song is my epistle. and it’s the breeze rushing off the lake that this morning carried me to where i meet the heart, the hand of God.

what on earth serves as your power cord? what recharges you? fills you with saintly essence? where did you meet God this week?

thumb-on-the-hose therapy

likely, it’s linked back to some prehistoric inclination toward splashing under the waterfall. certainly it’s among the earliest playthings of any young babe afloat in the sink. i’ve seen many a toddler get lost in the gee-whizardry of making a fountain out of a faucet, the plain old kitchen-sink kind, the kind that when blocked with a thumb sends water arcing every which way, drenching the whole darn countertop and half the floor besides.

so it is with human thumbs and narrow spouts for water: they’re inseparable. you can’t keep from playing.
and so it was that i found myself out not-stopping this morn.

i’d only meant to crank the spigot, drop down the snake of a hose, let the wide-open O dribble and drool for awhile, fill up the gullet of all those poor thirsty things in my over-parched garden.

but then, well, the whoosh of the water wooed me, pulled me in, wouldn’t let me go, held me in a waterlogged trance.

it was just after dawn, and the day ahead promised to pull me every which way (much like the geysers of water), and to tell the truth, i had no sensible reason to be cooling my thumbs playing with the hose.

but there i was: unable to stop.

i was putting about, offering a quick dribble here, a long drink there, making like some sort of bar maid pulling back on the spout of the keg, filling the mouths of my in-need-of-a-tall-one stool-spanning patrons.

and that’s when i felt it: the whole gritty grime of the long jumbled week, just rinsing away.

the more i played with the hose, the lighter i felt.

there is nothing, i’d like to suggest, more soothing for a parched tattered soul than to while away the morning, at play with the hose. thumb on the spout, preferred.

oh, it had been a week all right. let’s see where shall we start: how bout tuesday? the day my tall fellow’s back went kerpluey (or splat; i can’t say as i heard the precise mechanical breakdown, all i heard was the odd cry of my name, the beckoning from above, shortly after dawn, just as i was about to scurry out the door to the worktrain, and, after some searching about, i discovered the long, lanky fellow quite flat on the floor).

egad. but that’s merely the start.

later that very day, just as dusk set in on a faraway riverbank, the young rower of mine called to say he’d been pickpocketed, a most unfortunate phone call that shattered the already-not-so-calm evening.

egad. just warming up here.

by next day, a fine locksmith was making our acquaintance, as he went about the business of changing eight locks to keep the tomfoolers away. (the pickpockets snatched the housekey along with the few dollar bills.)

oh, and then did i mention a house filled with houseguests? why, yes. a fine old gradeschool friend of said flat-on-his-back fellow arrived with his flock just after the locksmith let himself out. (might i add that a full seven of us shared one wee bath with a spritzy ol’ shower, for two nights and three days. rub-a-dub-dub. hmm, perhaps i should have hauled in the hose….or insisted on showers out back by the spigot…why in the world wasn’t i thinking?)

oh, it was a week all right. a week that had me driving hither and yon, once with a back patient supine in the flat back of the wagon. another time, rescuing the freshly wallet-less rower not far from the scene of the crime.

and then there was the unexpected jaunt to the airport to pick up what was left of said wallet; found not long after pickpocketing, it turned out, tossed aside on a runaway el train, one that pulled to a stop at the airport, where the wallet was scooped up and locked in a safe, there at the end of the line, till i could drive out to claim it.

which brings us, at last, to the hose, and the dawn of another hot sauna day, and the chilled spilling waters that lulled me away to a faraway place, the land of the tranquil, the fiefdom of the wholly un-frazzled.

it’s a knack i believe i picked up via pure DNA. my mama, she wields quite a hose, is armed with a thumb that’s a heck of a squirter; broad and flat, it gets right down to business.

fact is, i’m third-generation thumber. i needn’t even close my eyelids to see my grandma lucille in her fine summer frock, and her heels, out thumbing the hose all over her beds.

i’ve heard it said that the thumb and the hose are the tightest pair a gardener might ever employ.

beats any spigot or sprinkler. wallops a watering can.

why, with your thumb you can aim this way or that. you can spray. you can spritz.

you can get up close to the delicate fronds of the fern, or pour forth on the trunk of a maple.

you can steer clear of the bee, play chase with the robins.

you can get lost in all the water games. forget that you’d wandered into the garden loaded down with a week’s worth of worry and grit.

it’s what happened to me just hours ago, when i set forth with my hose and my thumbs, the two of ‘em.

and now, at the close of a long hot string of worrisome. wearisome days, my garden is humming, and so are me and those thumbs.

i barely had three seconds to write today, and likely it shows. oh well. so much for those fine-laid plans. tis summer. barely a minute to breathe.
anyone else live to splash in the water???

no reason ’cept she’s beautiful…

no reason cept she's beautiful

i guess maybe you’ll think you need to call the doctor. dial up some prescription for that poor lady who cannot haul herself in from out beneath the smelly bush.

oh, my, the neighbors soon will whisper. why, i saw her there, just the other night, they’ll say. all curled up and sleeping. didn’t seem to mind the rain. she lay there, drip, drip, drip. till morning. when she stirred, and stretched and, dang, she took another picture, that lady did. seems she’s up and lost her mind over that there vi-bur-num.

fear not, friends. it’s just that, well, i couldn’t very well tuck that lovely rain-laced beauty queen away in some old box with mothballs to keep it from crumbling. i had to lay it out, so you could see. sort of like when folks invite you in for coffee, then make sure to leave all the baby books right there on the cushions of the couch, and you can’t help but flip the pages and coo the mandatory ooohs, and ahhhs.

the other thing is simply this: it’s the very end of a long, long week, and looking at that picture (although here it looks a little fuzzy, which it did not before it landed here. oh, well…) is sort of like putting on your old holey jammies, the ones you would not wear out the house. the ones you would race to change, even before the fire fighters got there, if you’d had to call and beg their services.

it’s just a friday night, is all, and rather than curling up with ice cream and a trashy novel, i thought, oh, heck, why not wander over to the table. put out some new fresh flowers. pretty things up for the weekend.

this is, of course, that day we mamas wait for, yessirree. that day when we do the shopping, make the quiche, invite the friends, and call it mother’s day brunch. oh, wait. it’s not like that at your house? hmm. well, it is at mine.

mostly, i’m unwinding from a week that stretched my heart from here to there, and back again. my computer went kerpluey. which was not so very fun. no, not at all.

and, then, i stumbled upon a story so sweet and so delicious, i am still trying to get the drippy stains off of my chest. actually, they might be dried-up tears, because i’m not like those hard-boiled, tough-skinned news chicks on tv. oh no. i don’t pretend that it’s just a story, and i am there to scribble notes.

nope.

i fall hard sometimes. really really hard.

thing is, i realized this week that, for me, writing stories is the most fervent prayer i pray. it is wholly sacred, i tell you, to sit and listen as some fine someone unfurls her story. and i, collecting words like rosary beads, just snatch and string each one. bead after bead, story after story. until the tale is told.

when i’m in the gather mode, scooping up so many beads, i do ask a million questions. once, someone laughed and called me a human vacuum cleaner. hmm.

well, i do tend to ask for a few thousand teeny-tiny details. and, then, because i can’t help myself, i whip up my newsgirl lasso and swing it first in little circles once or twice, then i cast it out, wide and sweeping. often, this is where the things that someones say humble me to tears. if you listen long enough, you can’t help but hear some mighty wisdom.

other times i tiptoe on the ledge, inching close as i can inch to just short of that place where the teller of the story, would say, oh no. that i cannot, will not, tell.

when it’s over, when the last story is spilled, and folks are starting to yawn, i gather all my beads, sweep them up and stuff them in my satchel.

then, back home, i sit down before the magic keys and close my eyes, and pray to God to be that holy pencil, i so often refer to.

what i pray for, is that the pulsing beauty of the everyday psalm–as the brilliant chicago photographer, john white, once referred to the capturing of the uncommonly common street story–oozes through the words that just come spilling out, and fill the page.

then i send it off and wait. i have this little picture in my head. i imagine some sort of gold dust, from the spirit of the story’s essence, rubbing off, onto the fingers and the heart of every someone who takes the time to sit and pick up that day’s news, and, then, just happens to bumble on the one i stitched my heart in, and reads along, to the very end.

i imagine, this mother’s day especially, a whole city glowing gold, as, one-by-one, a story’s read and passed along. i imagine a whole city shining.

or at least that’s what i pray. and why i think the work i do each day is really nothing more than the finest prayer i ever learned to pray.

and that’s what i’m thinking about this lovely evening. lying here, beneath that raindrop-christened bush, where all is beautiful these smelly days and nights.

oh, and besides, the nice computer man told me to fool around here and see if he’d chased out all the critters that were gunking up the gears. so let me just push this one little button here, and see….

promise, soon as i can i will share with you the story that has me at once so giddy, and so very tired, this late late friday night.

it’s sunday now. the computer went kerpluey again. but i think we’ve now done the proper voodoo. at least i hope so. tomorrow morn, when all is quiet, and i am fully breathing once again, i will post the lucy story, and share with you the lovely bits that had to fall to the cutting room floor. ol’ dear mr. hemingway once said, a story is only as good as what’s left on the cutting room floor. and that fine maxim has been the novacaine to get me through plenty a painful cutting session. ouch. it always hurts. but this here blog, i now realize is a fine remedy, a way to still get to tell some of the pieces of the story that i think you’ll love. lucy trevino and her mama, rosa, are my heroes of this day. a more amazing love story i’ve not heard in a long long while….check out the tribune’s website today, or come back tomorrow, and i’ll have the story here….