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Category: transition

that one brave thing (an update)…

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illustration by Antony Huchette, for the New York Times Book Review

just a quick middle-of-the-week update from the courage department…

not so very long ago, i wrote here about trying very, very hard to be brave.

these are some of the words that tumbled straight from my truth-telling heart:

i forget sometimes that i can be brave.

i sometimes think the countervailing forces of the world — the ones that whisper to me that i’m not good enough, don’t belong, won’t pass muster — they’ll knock me down. buckle me at the knees.

…i sometimes think of myself as a chicken. a wimp of the first order. i keep watch on folks who look to be brave, and wonder, “how, oh, how do they do that?” here’s a secret: sometimes when i talk to them, when we both unfold our hearts, i find out that they’re just as scared as i am, but they shush away those nasty whispers. or march headlong into them, never minding the awful bluster.

of course i have to remind myself — over and over and over — of that little truth. that the courage to face fears is sometimes simply plugging your ears to the noise, and deciding to hum your own little courage tune.

and just in case, i’ve come up with a back-up plan, or maybe it’s a fortifying plan. it’s modeled off the vitamins of my youth. it’s the one-a-day plan. one brave thing each day. that’s it.

i understand deeply that the trail up the mountainside comes one footstep at a time. no one’s taking giant leaps for womankind. they’re taking normal human strides, one foot in front of the other, and suddenly they’re at a point that’s halfway up. or nearly at the top.

it’s the one-brave-thing plan. i muster as much courage as it takes for one bold move — sending off the email that makes me quiver in my clogs. making the scary phone call before my voice gets caught in my throat. taking five deep breaths then plunging in.

here’s what happened the day i took a deep breath, and mustered all my courage:

Boyhood on a Shelf, April 9, 2017, New York Times Book Review, page 13.

thank you, and thank you, dear mother courage.

i’ll be back, as always, friday morning. it’ll be hushed because, for me, it’s Good Friday, that day of sacred silence from noon till three bells, the hours of the Crucifixion.

delighted to hear if your courage took you to any heights of which you’d only dreamed….

 

the empty room: gulp.

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it didn’t take long to hit us. once the sun went down, and the stars turned on. once two, not three, places were set at the old kitchen table. once we climbed the stairs and rounded the corner, spied the empty room.

empty, as in the boy who sleeps there was gone for a few days. empty, as in he made the bed before he whirled off to the airport (a sure sign of something unusual astir).

i heard both of us groan, the deep-down guttural sound you make when something feels strange. as we stood side-by-side brushing our teeth, i saw the look on both of our faces in the bathroom mirror: haunted.

we were both glancing into the not-too-distant, just-around-the-bend, two years-and-four-months from now. when the kid, God willing, will be off in college. the sweet boy who every night bounds into our room, in the dark, no matter the hour, whenever he’s finally calling it quits before sleep, and, every blessed night, he plops a kiss on my head, throws his gangly arms around whatever part of my sheets and limbs he can find, there in the dark.

how in the world will we manage, without his sweet animations 24-7? what in the world do you do with a house that’s missing its most precious cargo?

we’ve been at this, the other grownup and i, at this experiment in parenting, for nearly 24 years. had one babe then another fully occupying every inch of this house and our hearts. and last night, for the very first time, we both felt the hollowness up around the bend.

i didn’t quite know when i married the man i love just how much this fathering would melt him, would deepen him, would make him take so seriously the care and instruction of fine men in the making. i should have known — the man i love had perhaps the dearest father known to humankind, a man whose attentions on his children were deep and pure and unfailing.

one of the first clues that the man i married might take on uncharted dimensions was the night, weeks shy of our first labor and delivery, when he rolled my direction and announced to anyone listening: you’re not going to recognize me; i’ll be turning to mush (or something very much along those lines. i was not taking notes in the dark).

and so it’s been. the man practically goes weak in the knees for his boys. and ever since the little one came along, eight years after the first, a good four years after we were told that no more babes would ever come tumbling from the heavens, well, he’s kept his eyes on that prize like nobody’s business.

sometimes, in the thick of growing kids, when every few minutes you’re running this way or that, worrying about fevers and flus, tryouts and tests, you almost forget that some day the chapter will close. those kids’ll up and move out. pack their bags, wave goodbye, and launch their own sweet lives.

it’s not that we’re clueless, and it’s not for lack of evidence — all around us, seeing as we’re on the, um, older end of the parenting scale, folks we know and love are singing the empty nest song. we’ve been told — by reliable sources — that these people we birthed will perhaps marry, have kids of their own, turn us into grandmama and grandpapa. and having sent one off to college, and soon off to law school, we’re somewhat versed in long-distance parenting.

it’s just that — oh, my — it hit us like 10 tons of bricks last night that we could soon be dwelling in a house that’s 10 sizes too big. a house that’ll feel like an old pair of jeans, slid down around our ankles, because they don’t fit anymore. we might need walkie-talkies to holler from one room to the next, since our intermediary messengers will no longer be here to relay the word (as in, “mom says there’s smoke coming out of the oven!”).

thank God we get these limited-edition previews, those signs from the heavens that life is about to change, and change rather dramatically. it sank in with a thud last night, and now that wisp of what’s-to-come might begin to lurch around deep down inside, where we do all our growing, our getting ready for the transformation that’s peeking over the horizon.

he’ll be home sunday night, that sweet kid now romping through cambridge, mass., 02138, his home away from home, the global village where he’s certain he left a chunk of his heart. by then, perhaps, i’ll gather a stash of brochures from the college just down the lane — the one that might break me in slowly to this notion of deep empty nesting.

in the story of your life how did you find a way to adjust to the day-to-day absence of someone you loved? or is it an ache that still hurts?

two housekeepings: i’d thought i might write a blessing today for that soon-to-be-birthed work of my heart, Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving, but instead i was walloped by that empty bedroom above — and felt the need to try to capture the moment in words. i’ll likely send out a special blessing on tuesday, the official publication date of the book with the lovely nest on the cover. and an update on bravery: i found out this week that mustering courage, doing the thing that wobbles your knees, sometimes makes your wildest dream come true. details to come in the very near future.  

for the children: an inaugural prayer and a promise

teddy and mom, heart in hands

my heart is heavy today, and when it’s at its most leaden i try mightily to lift it through prayer.

my prayer at the dawn of this day is for the children.

i think in particular of a deep-eyed girl of seven who lives in faraway maine, a little girl who holed herself in her chandelier-lit bedroom on monday, listening all day to the speeches of martin luther king, jr., a little girl who asks questions about how to use her voice — to speak out when she hears a girl teasing her friend on the playground, to speak up for what she believes, without fear that she’ll wind up unloved and pushed aside in the process.

she’s a little girl who is finding her way through the tangled landscape of fairness and justice, who is looking to the grownups around her to find the tools she’ll make her own, the tools that just might allow her to leave this world a little bit more whole — and more healed — than when she arrived.

“she’s struggling with this fear of not being loved if we use our voice and it’s not the same as everyone else’s, if all the voices don’t ring the same,” says her mama, a very wise soul with a very wise voice. “she understands that we can’t give someone else our voice, and we can’t borrow the voice of someone else. so, for her, martin luther king day was all about the power of using our voice for what we believe in, about the conflict of speaking up or keeping quiet even when you know something is wrong.”

my prayer is for that little girl. my prayer is for all the children, the ones waking up, perhaps, on a wobbly cot, under a thin blanket, squeezed tight against the mama who protects them from unthinkable things in the night. i am thinking, too, of the children who wake up not far from me, in bedrooms where walls are covered in papers and paints that cost more per square foot or per gallon than some of us could ever fathom.

i pray for them all.

because children don’t get a say in where they are born, and in whose arms they find themselves cradled. they don’t choose who soothes them; they ask only to be soothed, and fed, and kept warm and kept dry. they beg to be loved.

if they’re blessed, they’re anointed with all of those things. if there are eyes to gaze back at them, a voice to whisper — or sing — to them, if there are arms to scoop them up when they cry, well, then they’ve already won the baby lottery.

children are pure at birth, and not yet thick-skinned. they’re nearly translucent, in matters of heart and soul anyway. their job early on is to pay close attention, the attention of saints and prophets. they’re keeping watch in hopes of figuring out just who it is they want to be, and how they might best find their own circuitous way through the wilds.

i pray for them this newborn morning because i want theirs to be a world where goodness and kindness and gentleness seep in, seep to their core, bathe them through and through in truth and justice and love in purest tincture.

i want the grownups around them, and even the ones far away, to commit, day after day, to trying to show them these few fine things: tenderness, honesty, strength of courage, and moral resolve. i want them enveloped in the very strands at the core of every sacred text ever inscribed.

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Aylan Kurdi, 3, a Syrian refugee who drowned fleeing his war-torn homeland, and washed ashore in Turkey. Photo by Nilufer Demir

i want children to be able to tune into the world beyond their front door and not hear vitriol, not see ugliness. i want them to listen to sharp and curious minds engaged in debate and dialogue, free from jagged edge, free from acid-tinged tone. i pray to God they don’t some day aimlessly change the channel and stumble on images of war-pummeled children, images of children covered in dust and rubble and blood from their wounds; children dumped — or washed ashore — lifeless.

i want them to hear the booming voice of hope, of words that lift the human spirit and set it soaring. i want them to feel wrapped in a message that tingles their spine, because even a child — especially a child — knows beautiful when she or he hears it.

i want each child to know full well that he or she can dream wildly, can be the very someone they choose and work to be. i don’t want them to know the sound of a door slamming in their face, or the screech of a siren carrying them — or someone they dearly love — far, far away. i don’t want a single child to be scared to death, to be breathless with fear. i don’t want hands and arms ripped away from them. i don’t want a child left alone in a classroom or closet or train car, left cowering in a corner.

i want for these children the america that i believe in — one that looks much like the world as God first imagined it: skin in a thousand shades of brown and black and cream. i want a melting pot where everyone gets a fair and solid chance. i want books — gloriously written tomes — to be as close as the nearest library. i want teachers to fill classrooms where learning is rich and intellects are lit on fire. i want leaders with backbone, with the courage to stand up and say, “that’s not right, that’s a lie, that’s unfair, or unjust, or just plain hateful.”

i want a sky that’s uncluttered with smog and poisonous fumes. i want a child to be able to poke his or her head out the window at night and count the stars, connect the dots of heaven’s light, name the constellations. i want the rivers and streams to gurgle and babble and rush and roar. i want children to know the sound of a leaf crunching underfoot, or even a wee little creature scampering by — close enough, perhaps, to muster a fright, an innocent fright, the fright of the woods.

i want children to sit down to a table where there’s food from the earth, wholesome food, unsullied food. food to make the child whole, and strong, and able.

i want children to be strong of body and sinew and bone, yet i know that can’t always be. and for those who are not — not strong, and not able, for children who are sick, or born with terrible burdens, i want them to be able to find a doctor or nurse or healthcare worker who can get to the bottom of the mystery, the quandary, the illness, and work toward a cure. or at least erase the suffering, as much as is humanly possible. i’ll beg God to step in to take care of all the rest, and to ease the worries too — of mama and papa and child, and anyone else who lies awake fretting every dreaded what-if.

i want for all the world’s children all the very same things i want for my own: i want them to know deeply that they are loved. i want them to know there is a heart always willing to listen, to hear every last utterance of their worries or fears or confusions. i want them to know that all around there are great good souls who are gentle and kind and unceasingly fair, souls who do not reach for words as weapons of hurt, or of hate.

i want them to know: when i’ve run out of answers, when i cannot quell the trembles, or chase away the darkness, there is a God who’s always in reach.

i want their prayers to be answered, and mine to be heard.

and i promise, with all my heart on this day, to do all i can to make certain the world i imagine, the world that i want, is the one i work hard to come true. i’ll do my part. starting right now. as the sun rises, again.

what do you pray for the children? what do you pray on this day at the start of a chapter?

letter to the new year

mama love....

dear year soon to crown,

as i’ve done before in birthing rooms i will reach out to cradle you, take you in my hands, pull you close against my chest. you’ll hear my heart beating, quietly.

i will study you, be in awe of your sudden appearance, your entrance, your being here. there was no guarantee you and i would meet, and therein is the miracle, the often taken-for-granted miracle. yet, unmistakably a miracle. in every way.

both miracle and blessing, each new year demands my full and unwavering attention. demands the full attention of all of us standing here on the cusp, filling our hearts and our imaginations with promises, vows, hopes, resolutions of the deepest kind.

i count on both hands and beyond the people i’ve loved — loved dearly — who didn’t get to know you. the ones, especially, who missed you by a year, or two — the loss still raw, ever a mystery, one i’ll never solve. they’re the everyday reminder to me that 2017 didn’t have to be in my cards. could have been eclipsed. gone before i got here.

i can’t shake the frame locked in my imagination, the one of my dear friend last march, lying gaunt in her hospital bed, all the tubes finally taken away. there was no need for tubes anymore; they’d been revealed to be false hope, distraction from the inevitable. she looked up at me, asked, thinly, “can you believe this?” her words as much declaration as question. i think of her on the doorstep of death, breaths away from slipping to the other side. i hold that moment. study it. i breathe in her courage, i pray it infuses every last nook and cranny inside me. i pray i live her dying instruction: “practice gratitude.”

i beg you, new-coming year, to be gentle. i’ve a hunch you won’t be. i realize the gentle needs to come from deep inside me. i need to find the holy balm to steady me through the rough waters to come. i’m bracing myself wth double doses of those few things that have proven to be my salvation: prayer; silence; rampant and unheralded kindness; the rapt company of a rare few companions, deep in the act of holding up each other’s hearts.

i will usher you in with all the majesty a new year deserves: i’m quieting already. i’m taking walks in the woods, standing in awe of the crimson flash of the flicker darting from oak to oak. i’m assuming a prayerful pose under the star-stitched dome of the heavens. i awake with the dawn, press my nose to the window, often step outside, watch the tourmaline streaks stain the eastern edge of night, rise up, rinse the morning sky in diffuse and certain light.

i will curl in my armchair and scribble my own list of promises. the ways i hope to be kind. to be gentle. to forgive. to try and try again.

the dawn of each year draws me into my natural monastic state. i would have been such a cheerful monk, walking the moonlit halls, bare feet slapping the great stone slabs, guided by flickering candle’s flame. i would have relished a bowl of bean soup simmered all new year’s eve day. would have sliced a thick wheatberry baton of bread. alas, i’m without monastery walls at this moment in my life, and thus must do without the stone-slabbed corridors. but i’ve beans and bread and bees’ wax. i’ve a heart awaiting the new year, and all the prayers it will stir.

be gentle, new year. be kind. and most of all, be blessed.

what do you pray for in this coming year?

my list of prayers this early morn is topped with ones for my sweet little nephew milo, who broke his wrist quite badly, and who is in surgery as i type. he’s in portland, maine, a time zone away, and i got up early to keep vigil from afar, to keep watch over our little guy, and his mama and papa who are huddled, worried, as they wait outside the OR door. 

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mr. milo & me, almost four years ago

comings and goings

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any minute now, the big rumbling moving van will lurch to the curb out front. a flock of muscled men will emerge, the ramp will be erected at a certain angle, and all day long a flurry of boxes and arms and legs and the contents of a life long lived will parade from house to deep dark truck interior, and back again for more.

by day’s end the house will be boxed into cardboard containers, slapped with tape, labeled. it will be hollowed of all but the fading echo of years spent raising boys, three boys, each now a father living far away, soccer cleats and bicycles long emptied from the garage. the tinkling of forks and knives, from all those family dinners, all those dinner parties, silenced. the flickering of candles i watched as recently as last night, snuffed out.

the next door neighbors, after forty-some years, are moving. and in the flow of life, the rhythm of comings and goings, each exit leaves a dent. a carved-out hole. a dimming and a darkness.

while, for the past 14 years, we’ve mostly flowed side-by-side, not been the sort of neighbors where we dash and ring the bell, borrow a cup of sugar here, a splash of merlot there, love grows anyway. the sight of him, bent and shuffling slowly in the yard, puttering with his tomato plants, stooping down to haul away a branch after storms have tossed the trees. the sound of her, warbling in the early morning, when the screens were in the windows, and the windows open, as she warmed her cords, her lungs, her voice, for the church choir, or the swing concert, or just the show tune of the hour. it will all be gone now. moved three miles north, out of sight and out of ear shot. hardly out of heart.

their presence, one i always likened to knowing someone sturdy was pressed against my shoulder, was most days felt when darkness came, and the lights in their kitchen, or the glassed-in study just beyond the picket fence, or those flickering candles at the dining room table, glowed golden against the twilight, against the cloak of night.

there’s a broad-winged window in our dining room, one i see out of the corner of my eye when i’m at the cookstove. i am often at the cookstove toward the end of day, at dinner time, at put-away-the-day time. and that soft burning light through the window panes, through the bramble of bushes, it whispered from next door: we’re home. life is flowing inside our house, too.

i admit to a lifelong imagination animated by the doings inside houses all along the lane, any lane anywhere. i spend time considering the animation of each and every house, of the hours and the duties that bind us, make us more in common than apart. even looking down from clouds, when i fly from here to there, i spy the little towns, especially, and see the lights inside the itty-bitty boxes of the houses, and i wonder who’s inside, who’s stirring sauce at the stove, who’s just getting a phone call that will change everything, who’s all alone.

with the house next door, i didn’t have to imagine too, too much. i knew the players. had come to love the players. over time, you learn things, peel back the stories, allow the bond to build — the new year’s ladies lunch she always hosted; the time we went together to the tracks, put down dollar bills on the horse he assured would win; the day we moved here nearly 14 years ago when she came to the door with a tinfoil-domed platter of the best chocolate chip cookies anyone ate that day, and she looked me in the eye, said, “i think we’ve a lot in common,” and it would be awhile till i realized what she meant was that she, too, was irish catholic, married long ago to a brilliant jewish fellow; they’d trod this interfaith path long before i’d even met the man i would love and marry.

she told me, after years of back and forth at the invisible line that divides our yards out back, about the time her little brother ran in front of the car, and died. right before her eyes. she told me how she up and packed three boys, left behind the house she loved, and moved to england for a time, when her husband was a rising executive and the boss said, “move!”

over time, you learn the heart aches, divine the heroism, the everyday grit that muscles some of us forward, that some days topples others of us. over time, you come to count on the quiet rhythms from the house next door. you learn their ways. how, as soon as the air outside warms to, oh, 78, the air conditioners will begin to hum. and how, come sunday morning, the singer’s warmups will punctuate the chatter of the birds.

over time, their story seeps into yours. you’ve watched her boys come home on weekends to mow the lawn, you’ve watched them marry, and just last night you watched her youngest rock his newborn baby girl to sleep.

life passes while we’re watching. which is why it matters so very much to keep close watch. which is why the practice of paying attention brings riches — and countless wisdoms — to our soul. which is how and why we fall in love, day after day, with those who fill our hours with the hum of their every day.

when we’re watching closely, we get peeks at the human spirit exposed. even when it’s by simple accident of geography that we’re entwined through the light and shadow cast on all the passing hours. when what’s drawn us into each other’s close orbit is the single-digit difference in the address that we call home.

until the big van comes, and we’re left looking into darkness next door.

what are the quiet rhythms of your everyday that you’ve come to count on? who are the ones whose lives have slowly softly seeped into yours, by virtue of geography or habit, the ones whose lives you know through occasional encounters rather than uninterrupted unspoolings, whose presence over time adds up to someone you count on in your own quiet way? what peeks at heroism have you gleaned from those who pass you by on a regular basis? 

and mickey and alicia, we send you off with love. much love….

 

a prayer for beginnings and endings

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it’s whirling all around me, the beginnings and endings. mostly the endings.

on the leafy lane where i live, house after house has sprouted those signs they post around here, graduation signs. “congratulations 2016 grad!” the signs trumpet. and the kids who live in those houses, they were four, holding their mama’s hand, toddling down the puddled sidewalk, shyly peeking out from under a big yellow rain hat, the day i met the first of the flock. just yesterday, i thought. yet somehow, in the pancaking of time, they’ve learned to read and pedal bicycles, they’ve gripped hands to the wheel, stolen first kisses, broken bones and borne concussions. and now, they’re practicing “pomp and circumstance.” could it be 14 years later?

and in this old house, one will be awake any minute, gulping down one last hour of geometry infusion, taking two more finals today, leaving only one straggler exam for monday. and the big kid, the one who now refers to himself as, “a retired teacher, retired at almost 23,” he’s wrapped up his very last round of trying to teach kids to read. he and i sat side-by-side the other night, pored over the papers he’d hauled home, the ones with the questions he’d asked his kids to answer, in the very last class, before they piled paper plates with flamin’ hot cheetos, and cooled the flames with juice box upon juice box. turned out it was a lesson in all the questions that matter: what’s your favorite memory, what are you most proud of, what does it mean to live a good life, what kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?

the answers humbled both of us, the kid who’d wondered all year if he was teaching anything, and me, the mama who always knew he was. what most kids called their favorite memory was “when we were all on the floor, and the school got shot.” (or some variation on that school-shooting theme.) one kid was most proud that he’d “learned to read more better.” and then we got to the humdinger of a last question, the one that asked the kids to dip deep into their souls and pull out the rough draft of a dream.

in answer to the question what does it mean to live a good life, a seventh-grader (one well-versed in the echo of gunshot) wrote: “to be able to live life instead of not living at all.” a kid whose dad is in prison wrote: “i wants to be a wealthy person to provide for his family.” and a kid who’s scored a high-school scholarship and a national champion football ring wrote: “i want to live life with a dream.” a sixth-grader, though, might have said it most clearly: “it’ll be no killing.”

the kindergartener who tells anyone who asks that her daddy and her uncle fell down and died “when they tripped over their legs,” (they must not have told her guns were involved last summer and the summer before when the two were gunned down) she simply wrote: “i love you, mr. k.”

and so, school years are over, whole chapters have ended. careers (that short-lived teaching career) have come to a close. and job interviews lie ahead. so, too, do emails telling of roommates, and dorm assignments, and start dates for jobs. and lots and lots of soggy goodbyes.

so on this birth of a day when so much is ending, i’ll whisper these words, and offer them boldly up to the heavens…

first and always, thank you, dear God, for keeping them — all of them — safe. specifically, for each and every drive back and forth on streets where guns aren’t foreign, aren’t far away, where jersey barriers and plain-clothes cops (guns drawn) have been known to block the route. thank you for steering that bullet clear of anyone’s flesh the day it shattered the  schoolroom window, bounced off a pipe, and dropped to the hard tile floor of the preschool classroom. and thank you, while i’m at it, for inspiring my firstborn to ask those questions that might have given him a peek at the little bit of difference it made for him to stick it out till the end of the year, and not abandon the classroom. not even on the days when a second-grader pushed another clear down the stairs, or the pair of sixth-graders devised a science experiment, the one where they shoved their pinkie fingers straight into the electric socket to see what would happen. and not on the day the fourth-grader called him a name you wouldn’t want a kid to know. and not on the day when the fifth-grader punched him — hard — in the gut.

thank you for the hours when you gave them strength, all of them. the days when the soccer coach picked the other kid, the day when the test they’d hoped to ace came back not even close. the day when the job that somebody wanted was already filled.

thank you for the wisps of kindness that softened their days. thank you for the rare few times when i might have unearthed just the right thing to say. when i answered the phone, drove to the schoolhouse door without grumbling, and knew once in a while that the holiest sound i could make was the silence of listening, just listening.

thank you, too, for the joys. for the love birthed in somebody’s heart, and the delight of watching him tenderly bake her a batch of congratulations cookies. and ice them, to boot. each one inscribed with a word or a phrase that signaled their shared secret script.

thank you for the undeniable fact that they surround themselves with very fine friends. friends there in a pinch. friends whom the little one says, “make me a better person.” and friends who thought nothing of flying in for the weekend, halfway across the country, simply because it’s the place my other kid calls home (or at least this year he does).

thank you for the dinners that left the kitchen looking like a battalion rolled through. and thank you for the quiet dinners for four, especially the ones when no one minded the leftovers. thank you — yes, thank you — for the chance to pack two lunches again. and thank you, mightily, that the last one of the year has been packed. the pb & j, retired for the summer. or at least my spreading knife in it.

thank you for all of this, always. thank you for the blessing of pause. of paying attention to cusps, of beginnings and ends. thank you more than anything for this latest whirl around your radiant sun. i know i’m sated. i’m shining.

and what’s in your prayer for beginnings and endings? 

and happy blessed graduation, birthday, end-of-final-exams, whatever is your beginning or ending of choice on this glorious day in may…..

a p.s. about the little bouquet up above: when i was little, the height of springtime pluckings was the gathering up of plain old violets, and heavenly send-me-to-the-moon lily-of-the-valley. in a bow to those bouquets of long ago, i plucked up a little fistful. if i’d not stumbled on a prayer, i might have mused on those. instead, i simply tucked them atop the prayer. a fitting may altar. 

and a new year was born…

londonbooks

dispatch from london…

psst. while you were wrapped in the fading twilight hours of 2015, my curly-haired boys and i were due to be nestled along the banks of the thames (where midnight comes seven hours ahead of the place i call home), watching the sky explode with light and wonder (please God, only with this…).

soon as i settle back on these shores, these glorious shores, and shake off the jet-sag (that’ll be tomorrow by bedtime), i’ll tap a few musings from our days spent in london, where our little family has taken our first en masse trek across the very big pond. being the original nesty-girl, especially at christmas, i’m not one to yearn to leave behind my little tree, and all the boughs of red berries tucked about my house. but london at christmas? the visions of frost-dusted window panes danced in my head. as did the notion of tea at fortnum & mason. and waltzing the aisles of harrods. or, better yet, those quaint little shops, where as you push open the centuries-old door, step off the cobblestone sidewalk, a tinkling chime welcomes you in. a dreamy girl could go bonkers in storybook london. and to think i get to travel with my very own guide to architectural wonder (upon wonder after wonder after yet another wonder — pray for my legs not to give out, as our resident critic has penciled in outings from pre-dawn till day’s end, for days upon days). and, dearest of all, we’re inhaling it all with our sweet pair of boys! (an exclamation mark isn’t too often pulled from my writerly tool kit, but in this case it’s all exclamations.)

you can be certain my little heart was filled with a prayer as i watched the midnight sky of londontown bloom into radiance of the sparkly new-year variety. the prayer, no doubt, put to rest the heartache of the year we’ve now left. and it gathered up all the magnificence of those we love who didn’t make it beyond the year. the prayer, indeed, comes with a vow to live more emphatically in all the ways they would have lived, the ways the world so desperately needs.

at heart, my prayer for the new year is so simple, and yet so steep a climb: dear God, let there be peace, but more than anything give me the strength and the faith to love, always, as i would be loved. let us be the light — gentle, soft, certain — that will not be snuffed. let us be the light for which this world so achingly yearns.

may your every day be stitched with wonder. may your hours be blessed. and may your heart hear the whisper it longs for….

merry blessed new year.

now, let us begin…..one + one sunrise

what might be a wisp of your new year’s prayer?

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 blessing of beginnings

new year sky

i’m just in from my morning rounds, my make-believe that i’m the caretaker of the dawn. the nubs of my fingers are nearly numb, for i stayed out too long. i was breathing in the heavens, breathing in the star-stitched sky, scanning for the disappearing moon, the moon playing peek-a-boo this morning.

the world was just rustling out of its bedsheets — or so it seemed. the trees whispered. off in the distance, a train let out its morning moan. i might have caught the stirring of the cardinal’s wing. or maybe it was a night critter, finally ambling home to bed. something in the bushes moved.

i know no holier way to greet the day, the morning light. i know no holier way to unfurl the carpet for the year that’s new, that’s just beginning. today, the dash between the first and third, the dash between the world’s new year and mine (my birthday is a string of primes: 1.3.57), is wholly a day of quiet rapt attention. i’m crouched down low, tucked off to the side, scanning the year ahead, the days of possibility. i’m considering what might come — what might break my heart, what might take my breath away, what might bowl me over with pure sheer joy.

i’ve come to think that my time-delay birthday is one of the gosh-darn blessings in this life that pretty much dropped down upon me. sort of like the curly hair that i’ve come to realize has saved me zillions of dollars in pink sponge rollers i’ve not had to buy, or hours not spent in the beauty parlor chair where alchemy and goop put curl to other people’s stick-straight locks. i had nothing to do with odd birthday or curly locks — or any of what amounted to my starter package, really. but, along the way, i’ve learned to make the most of it.

so my year comes on tiptoes. my year slinks in around the bend. no crash-bang-boom for me. i take my new year launch in itty-bitty baby steps. i’ve three days to consider the turning of the page.

and there’s little i love as much as a new beginning, a chance to start again. to dust off my knees, inhale a deep and cleansing breath, and make a vow: this time, dear God, i’ll try even harder.

try harder to bite my tongue when the words are bunched up in my throat, just ready to launch a harsh, “will you PLEASE hurry up! will you PLEASE clean your room! will you GET OUT OF BED!”

try harder to breathe deep the mantra of dorothy day and st. therese of lisieux: “by little and by little.” as in, by little acts of kindness, by little courage, by little acts of love in the face of awfulness, we stand our one best chance to take up a notch this life that sometimes scrapes our knees and gives us hives and burns our eyes with stinging tears.

because it’s worth a pause within the pause, here’s a passage from robert ellsberg’s brilliantly edited and annotated, ‘dorothy day: selected writings’:

“simply, it consisted of performing, in the presence and love of God, all the little things that make up our everyday life and contact with others. from therese, dorothy learned that any act of love might contribute to the balance of love in the world, any suffering endured in love might ease the burden of others; such was the mysterious bond within the body of Christ. we could only make use of the little things we possessed — the little faith, the little strength, the little courage. these were the loaves and fishes. we could only offer what we had, and pray that God would make the increase. it was all a matter of faith.”

i suppose, because i seem to circle back to it every year, it’s becoming my new year prayer. it’s the only way i know — by little and by little — to take the mountain climb.

i’m certain there’s a wise person somewhere who realized the only way to change the world was one baby step at a time. in my scant few moments of insight — when the world before my eyes snaps crystal clear and sharply focused, instead of all a blur and hard to comprehend — i suddenly grasp that most folks who are making a difference, a big fat difference, are doing it with no more magic than you or i possess. they’re simply smart enough — or unfazed enough — to realize that one step firmly planted in front of another, that one phone call made, or one question bravely asked, or one trip across the street or across the ocean (it hardly matters which, sometimes), just might be the one that starts to pile up, to tilt momentum in the direction of holy change, in the difference between a world that is and a world that just might be.

maybe it’s time to steal a play from the smart-people’s play book: the baby-step guide to living. maybe it’s time to line up in the baby-step brigade.

for one thing, there’s less of a realignment when, inevitably, i flub it. taking a deep breath and trying again is a whole heck of a lot easier when all you need do is “take two” in the baby step department. but baby step + baby step = toddler step. and toddler step + toddler step = well, you get the math.

so here’s my prayer for this new and not-yet-scripted year:

dear Holiness, cast your rays of sparkling light — of shaft of sun, and dappled moonbeam — across my pot-holed path.

give me grace to hold my words, to not engage in prattling on about the wacky folk who try to topple me. give me grace — and wisdom, and a dash of far-sightedness — to live each day as if it’s my one last chance to leave a trail of the world as holy as i imagine it could be.

give me one last puff of energy on the evenings when i’m drained, and the phone rings and it’s someone i love who needs to talk it through, whatever is the hell the one i love has just encountered.

give me forgiveness in dollops. give me, please, enough to share it with abandon — most especially on those who try to take me down, who call me names that break my heart, who whisper unkind somethings.

dear God, thank you for bringing me once again to the crest of this next hill. thank you for the chance to look out upon the undulations of years past and days ahead. hold me in your tender palm, and those blessed unshakable arms. be the hand i squeeze when i get scared. and the pure fresh air that fills my lungs.

dear God, help me take it up a notch. and be ready with the band-aids when i fall and skin my knees.

much love, always, b.

dear chair people, can you see the itty bitty dot of light in that picture up above? just above the filigree of tree? that’s the ringed wonder, saturn. and just before dawn it was shining in the southeast sky. now, i have just about the dumbest little camera known to humankind and it never ever takes the dots of light that i’m hoping it will capture. but today, miraculously, it did. well, if you get out your magnifying glass, you’ll see it did. a small wonder like that is enough to start my day with a skip to the heart. so i hope it’s a contagious skip, and you too encounter a star-stitch of wonder today. 

so, what’s your blessing for the new beginning?

morning house

back to business

back to business

i nearly forgot how much i ached all day monday, the day my firstborn packed his bags, flapped his arctic wings and flew back to the hills of western massachusetts. i nearly forgot how the whole day felt like an uphill climb, and how each time my little one and i looked each other in the eye, we knew we were hollowed, were drained, had just had the plug pulled out of our sink.

blessedly, we birthed a tradition back on that uphill empty day. our dear across-the-streets were suffering the same heart drain, had just sent their elder child off to the vermont woods, and what with a vat of leftover beef stew in the fridge, and a pot of mashed potatoes to boot, we inaugurated what we think will become our annual “plus three instead of minus one” rite of soothing our oozing parts. and, as they walked in with a hot-out-of-the-oven blueberry-blackberry crispy-crumbly, all vapors of heartache up and went poof! (forgive us, you faraway children, it’s not that you’re a solid swap for fruits under buttery wraps, it’s just that, well, a dousing of sugar makes your leave-taking all the gentler to swallow.)

the polar cold didn’t loosen its hold till late tuesday night, so it took till wednesday for school to re-open and, thus, the real world to settle back in, the post-holiday, post-new year, back-to-business rhythms that i, for one, find as cleansing and invigorating as a frothy green drink chock-full of parsley and kale and mustardy greens.

why, i even hauled out the scrub bucket and mop. dis-assembled the yule tree. penned the thank you’s. tucked away the holiday dainties (to use a vintage wordchoice for confections, one i bumbled upon over the new-year stretch). turned in a book review. ironed the christmas-y napkins, tucked them away for a long winter’s nap.

i was gettin’ down to business in a scrub-dutchy way.

it is what january calls for, if you put your ear to the frosty winds and listen hard. diligent work, assiduous effort, those are the siren songs of the month at the top of the year.

in my case, it feels like it’s been far too long since i’ve gotten down to serious business. put nose to grindstone and cranked out a solid assignment. and, wonder of wonders, i find that i hum when working hard. when i can hold up a tangible something at the end of the day, and say, softly: “i did this.”

any day now, the last batch of edits are due from my little book’s editor, and then i’ll be sailing toward the copy editing desk. and i’ve promised myself i’ll get brave and dial up one or two assigning editors, in hopes of plunking some coins in my decidedly bony porcine bank, the one that’s teetering on nothing but fumes. in the meantime, i’ve signed up for an online poetry course, one that will hold walt whitman up to the light and bring a cambridge lecture hall here to my old maple table. and, for pure delight and because i believe in it as one of life’s richest assemblages, i’m picturing a dining table filled with madly opinionated, yarn-spinning chroniclers of everyday truth, wisdom and hilarity.

it’s january and the year is filled with promise. time to shake off the sloth, and see what i can pull from the depths of my deeply blessed soul.

how ’bout you? what’s on your i-promise-to-do list, not because you feel obliged but simply because it inspires? 

that framed moment above was just before my firstborn shuffled out the door with his duffle sack. the little one, leaning into him with all his sagging heart, not wanting him to go. ever. it’ll be months, and three full seasons, before he returns. these long pauses never get easier. and the heartache never dulls. so flow the rhythms of loving a faraway child.