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Category: looking back

thinking in circles

last night, while i scrubbed the onion burn off the bottom of a pan, i dove in deep in conversation with a mind i have known since delivery, which i think was just the other year.

heck, i can close my eyes and see that brain unborn, an ultrasonic skull, white-on-black on screen, the fuzzy outlines of cerebrum, the big black space i once mistook for lack of brain. until the radiologist talked me off the ceiling. i’ve had my eye on that gray matter since way back, in the beginning.

only last night, suddenly flashed forward, we parsed evil versus harmful. evil, he pointed out, is big picture; harmful is far less sinister in scope. next, he told me why he worries about organized religion; he worries that too many are too judgmental. who do people think they are, he asked, judging other people? it simply makes no sense. the God he knows forgives.

then he tossed out this: “people say you’ve gotta be good because you’ll go to heaven. it’s not about heaven,” he said as if that’s plain as day. “it’s about how you’ll impact other people.
“oy!”

not a heartbeat later, he’d moved onto deep forgiveness and i’d moved onto the pan that steamed asparagus.

he circled the sink and me, the boy who’s walked in circles as he thinks ever since he started thinking, which might have been the original day he lifted foot from ground and placed it back again. nearly 13 years, he’s walked circles ’round me; now, i realized as i grabbed for towel to dab at dripping pan, he thinks circles ’round me too.

when all the pots were clean enough, he and i indulged in sweet dessert—even deeper conversation. we retired to the maple table, we pulled up chairs, an after-dishes tete-a-tete all too rare in the world of over-busy, overburdened children. a tete-a-tete that might be required should anyone ever think to license those who sign certificates of birth.

while he ticked through list of one to twelve, a ranking of degrees of evil, each culled from news reports of recent years, i couldn’t help but note how on the days the news had happened, i’d so fiercely blocked him, little thinker, from this very litany of horrors—columbine, timothy mcveigh, the east texas worse-than-lynching death of james byrd, jr., the black man tied behind a pickup truck and dragged down a country road (my thinker’s pick for evil no. 1), and of course 9-11, which unfolded just minutes after i’d put him, then third grader, on a 12-seat van, newborn in my arms, his first solo ride to school on the far side of the city, a ride that, torturously that september day, coursed him through the shadows of chicago’s tallest towers.

back then, not long ago, i’d not wanted him to know the world could hold such hell.

and now, just minutes later, he was almost-man equipped with mind that studied every shade and shadow of every real-life horror story, probed for what it meant well beyond the news. a mind, i couldn’t help but notice, i could drink like desert water for the rest of all my days.

i shook my head, although he didn’t see me shaking. how, i wondered, did we get to here so fast? how is it that all those bedtime prayers, and all those late-into-the-night conversations, the ones where tears were wiped, the ones where stories told and questions asked sometimes felt like brill-o to my heart, how is it that while i was keeping watch, i swear i was, he had unfolded from little thinker of big thoughts into this mind, this soul, who, as i watch, is sharpening that tool, the way a carver sharpens knives, so he can use it to try to rid the world of what he sees as evil and injustice.

there are not, it seems, too many moments when you freeze the frame, see what’s taking shape before your very eyes. not on-stage moments. not graduations. not holding up a torah, or taking first communion. but right there, at the kitchen sink and just beyond, at the same maple table where you once set your elbows and launched a life of asking big fat questions.

there are a million moments along the road to that maple table and the parsing of degrees of evil that are, simply put, not a lot of fun.

there were fevers when the mercury shot to 105. and back at the beginning, weeks of rocking him beside the tub with the water running hard, something about the rushing sound that soothed (hmm, wonder if that’s why he now takes showers that could go on for hours).

there were schooldays when i heard all about how he’d stood alone on the playground, or perched on the roof of the climbing house, keeping watch on all the other children playing games without him.

and then we up and moved in the middle of fourth grade, and he endured a whole semester as the new kid from the city, the kid who in a town where baseball truly mattered, barely ever got on base, and swung at nearly every ball.

but sitting at that table, watching how he thinks, realizing that i was talking to a soul i couldn’t have designed to be more nourishing to my own soul, i couldn’t stop the warming down my spine: i’d do it all, all over again. in a blink, please sign me up.

it is perhaps the sweetest after-dinner morsel i’ve tasted in a long, long time: half an hour being circled by my firstborn child.

might i mention that it is exceedingly hard to write about how you love your growing-up child. i groped my way through the dark just now. i do it not to say how wonderful he is–that’s not the point at all. i do it to hold up the fact that here we are, some of us, in the very blessed front-row seat, watching the spectacle of true creation. it is almost unspoken, shared perhaps in pillow talk, the truth that what we’re watching takes our breath away. this is, i hope and pray, a place where we can whisper out loud the things not spoken often elsewhere. it is majesty, in rawest form. and though it’s hard as heck to put words to God’s most divine creation, i thought it worth a take. this, after all, is life in roughest draft. as always, i pull in close, i would love to hear your thoughts…

and while you’re at it, please, keep my blessed friend susan and her mama in your prayers. they could use a few today.

before the page turns

before the last page flips over and away, it seems fitting to say, in no particular order…

this was the year my bones got less wobbly thanks to a dancer named donna; my broken-necked boy got rescued, he did, thanks to guardian angels and samaritans, too.

a little girl with a brain tumor reminded me how simple it is, when she nestled next to her mama and proclaimed this lasting truth: “i can read, i can whistle, i have a loose tooth; my life is complete.”

another sweet girl with a brain tumor didn’t make it, but she got up out of her wheelchair and walked across the finish line, she did.

a quartet of builders pounded their hearts into my farmhouse kitchen, and everywhere i look, everything i touch, i see them, i feel them; one blessed builder didn’t live to see the end of this year and for him i will forever ache, and forever be thankful.
a wise editor named ross urged me to tell the whole truth in a tale that finally brought my skeleton out of the closet; an even wiser woman named linda gave me the courage, the backbone, to do so.

a wizened man from ecuador told my sweet will how he walked to this country, would let nothing keep him away; another from mexico told of crossing the desert for three days with nothing but orange peels and hard candy.

a plaza filled with passionate people would not let the world deny nor forget the suffering in darfur, and my boys, thank God, were there to soak in the passion, to add their voice to the outcry.

a college kid with pierced ear and huge heart fell in love with my rambunctious child, offering hope that someone out in the world might see the golden light in his aura.

a golden-haired girl, with a platinum heart, loved that same little kid, and filled his wednesdays with light, every week through the summer.

standing in the emergency room with one trembling 5-year-old, my dear friend and neighbor ran to our rescue, interrupting her birthday to let him leap to her arms and out of the terrifying horrible place.

month after month, our friends at the soup kitchen bathed us in gratitude, humbled us deeply with the simple act of telling us our supper was something.

two soccer coaches, our first taste of the game, cared not about winning; were gentle and sweet as two coaches could possibly, imaginably be.

friends jane, jan and judy, old hands each, took me by the hand, by the elbow, the shoulder, and got me through the great rite of my firstborn’s bar mitzvah.

my blessed magnificent rock of a friend, one from way back in the newsroom, flew here to stand in my kitchen, to be by my side, and teach my sweet will the fine art of ghetto fried rice.

a sweet woman named molly left a shabbat basket on my stoop, melting me thoroughly with her random act of deep kindness.

a man named dorel, who can no longer make words, delighted me endlessly with the gleam in his eye as we went over and over simple sounds, ah, buh and k, kat.

when the going got rough, i stood back and watched a man named pete be the consummate father, showering love on a kid he wouldn’t let get dumped.

on the other end of the line, when i needed him most, my old ER doc friend said the words i most needed to hear, and stayed on the line ’til all was clear.

a farmer named henry, week after week, quietly, wordlessly grew for the world the purest produce that i’ve ever tasted; his sister, the word smith, puts his stories in print, and reminds every one of us of the infinite wisdom buried deep in the earth.

in a million other ways, the friends who i love bathed me in goodness and light, made me laugh, dried my tears, held my hand, held me up. from the ones who brought donuts before dawn to our hospital bedside, to the ones who pushed me off the great blogger ledge, i ask and i beg God to bless them with grace and with all that is good.

it’s been one stunning year, and we’re here at the end. God bless you. God keep you. take a deep breath, take a dive once again…..

if perhaps you have someone who stood out in your year, for their kindness, their goodness, their most amazing grace, tack their tale here. no need to name names, we’ll all get the gist….