pull up a chair

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

Category: new year

the measures of our years: 11

IMG_0224

we mark time, this species Homo sapiens, to measure. to take measure. and so, in the gauzy moonlight of this cold december morning, i think back to that first dark morning, 11 years ago. when i awoke determined. uncharted, to be sure. the night before, a boy i love, a boy to whom i owe volumes of accumulated wisdoms and the double-size of my heart, that boy had been dilly-dallying, putting off homework, as he was wont to do. rather than attending to some eighth-grade math, he decided he’d build me a “website,” whatever that was, on my brand-new hand-me-up laptop (his old one bequeathed to me). i was only toe-deep into this endeavor until he asked me what its name might be, and as with so many of the fine things in life, the words popped out before i’d really had a moment to measure: “pull up a chair.”

i loved the notion, right away, the idea of wise souls and kindred spirits pulling up mismatched wooden chairs to the old scarred maple slab that is my kitchen table, one that holds the hieroglyphics of childhoods (my own amid a flock of five, and, now, my boys’, a pair), i loved the notion of a steamy kitchen, where the kettle always whistled, and the oven always cranked, and where the door was never locked.  i loved the notion of putting out a few simple words each morning, words that served as telescopes and magnifying lenses, as we tried to see and sense and sift for depths and heights otherwise unnoticed in the passing day to day. i particularly loved the notion that this might be a collective, a gathering place for poetry and plainspeak, prayer and commonsense, for wisdom and for joy. a place where heartache always, always found shelter, where shoulders were offered, tears dried, and where we’d hold each other up through whatever darkness came.

i never knew that there might come a day, 11 years down the road, when we’d all sit back on the hind legs of our chairs, tip warmed mugs to our lips, and ponder all that had passed during our close watch. intermittent watch for some, those who’ve come and gone, sometimes come again. at least two — my mother and my mother-in-law — have been — and are — regular as clockwork, sure to stop by, but not too inclined to say a word. sadly, heartbreakingly, some who first gathered at the table are gone now, but their spirits animate each and every day, each and every sentence typed. and in my own small life, two boys have grown — one was five, the other 13, when this all began. so they’ve grown up across these posts. two grade-school graduations, one high school, one college, and if i keep it up for two more years, we’ll rack another high school and law school, too.

the twists and turns and snippets of their lives that i’ve caught here, they’re priceless to me. they’ve been, more often than not, the launch pad for my deepest thoughts, the ones that mattered most to me. they taught me how to love, those two boys did. all of you, the ones who pulled a rickety chair up to the table, who added your hearts, your stories, your poetries and prayers to the mix, you did too. you taught me love. you proved that quiet whispers belong in a world where the shouting never stops.

so here we are, 11 years from the start. a second decade is chugging along. what began as a writing promise — i would write every single weekday for a year, see what sifted by — soon turned into a sacred vessel, an anchor to my heart and soul, a place where i knew i’d find priceless precious company, those tender souls who live and breathe gentle loving care, who might be speechless, or might need to holler out the upstairs window, when the world gets too cockamamie upside-down and twisted. books have been born from this little cranny of my heart. three books, now. (the newest one coming in the spring, just in time for the bursting forth of mama earth after a long winter’s curling deep within.) precious priceless friends have been made here and sealed with love that does not die.

i was scared to trembling the first time i hit the “publish” button, but i did it anyway. life does that. it shakes you to your bones, and then it rises up to scaffold you, to carry you to heights and summits you would not have known, or imagined in quite the depth and texture you now know.

bless each and every one of you for reaching out your hand, your heart, your whole, and whispering in unison: there is a world of tender loving care, a world that looks for poetry and wisdom all along the way. a world that believes in taking time, and paying attention, close attention, exuberant attention. there is a world of everyday devotions. and we are all the richer for the sound of each other’s footsteps marching, together, to the mountaintop.

thank you.

love, bam

IMG_0230because i promised to circle back to the book i’m carrying through this advent, and maybe every advent to come, “All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings,” by Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein, i thought i’d share just one passage from one of this week’s readings (every day’s is a breathtakingly poetic and poignant parable of woodland creatures in winter, all metaphors for the practice of Advent, the mystery of life that springs forth from what looks like death). 

chickadee (day 4): “As they swirl and hop at my feeder, they seem a flock of St. Francises. Like the saint wed to Lady Poverty, every day the question of their existence is open: Will there be enough of what they need to take them through the dark night, into tomorrow? Beyond reason, like the saint, they act as if the question is truly an opening, a freedom, a joy.” 

may your each and every day of deepening darkness be filled with flickerings of light. thank you for the gift of your presence here, week after week, year after year. 

where do you find light in the deepening of december?

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. 

img_2254

mr. milo & me, almost four years ago

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. 

fresh start

fresh start

dispatch from 02139 (in which the calendar page flips anew, and we all stare at the great white slate…)

another friday, another kitchen table. this one back in the land of cobblestone sidewalks and echoes of history. ones that pre-date the great chicago fire.

i awoke — late — to my definition of a heaven-plucked day: the sky is gauzy gray, as if soot-soaked cotton balls are plugging holes between the clouds. the little apartment is bathed in quiet. everyone’s gone away. just me and the tip-tap-tap of keyboard. a lulling sort of sound, and one that today is lulling me.

by accident of birth, i came onto the planet on the third day of a new year, and so all my life — and especially of late — i dwell in my own personal calendar of time delay. my january second comes on the fourth. today’s the day i call the Big After, when no one i love is trying to make a fuss, when i don’t hold my breath all day, hoping to extract the essence of a divinely choreographed day of grace. when i awake to laundry loads, and empty cupboard shelves. when to-do’s threaten to gallop cross my chest, pummel me in dust.

but the beauty of this time delay, this stalled beginning, is that i’ve extra hours to contemplate the fresh start. to consider hard and deep just how i might aim to live this year.

i am never short on aims. (from this point on, thanks to our flaky, flimsy internet connection, an hour of writing went down the tube….and in my mad-scrambled brain, i can barely cobble the words back together again. why does that happen when you actually felt sated by the words that had first fallen on the page? and why can’t you pluck those words back from the ether that has zapped them away? from here on in, a feeble attempt at re-cobbling. given the subject at hand, i ought to consider this a fresh start but, egad, that isn’t working….)

i am fueled by aims — a walking, talking i’ll-do-better machine.

and on this gray morning, this morning laced in shadow, my humble vows begin with these: to not dwell so often in clipped-time staccato, weekday after weekday, as i try to foist my little fellow from bed sheet to school bus, with mandatory pit stop at the breakfast trough. to not so often feel quite so shy, especially in a crowd, when all i really want to do is pull one great soul off to a corner for a heartfelt and satisfying tete-a-tete. to not whittle away so many hours, breath held hard and lost in worry that, at any given moment, geez, the plane could go down, the car might slide into a ditch, and the ones i love won’t shuffle back.

deep in the truth of all of us lies the rough draft that demands edit after edit.

and so we are blessed, those of us who keep time (and last i checked, that was most of us), who trace the day, the week, the year in spiral.

it is, at heart, a geometry of promise, hope and, most of all, ascension. it offers us the chance, over and over, to come back to that sacred moment when we stand at the crest of the hill, cast arms wide, salute the heavens, shake off dirt and dust, re-map our route, and see if this time round we might inch higher toward the summit.

i don’t know a world religion that doesn’t devote a chapter, at least, to absolution, cleansing, rinsing. it is as if we are hard-wired for holy resurrection. to rise from our brokenness. to seek forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings. to come back to the fresh start, the blank slate, to try and try again. to believe in the almighty “take two.”

and so it is this morning that i come on bended knee. i stand here praying, hoping, promising that my next go-around on this old globe might be one that draws me closer to the unfettered essence i was meant to be. the one not weighted down with doubt and double-guessing. the one that drinks in all the holy waters all around me.

it is, i hope and pray and believe, by little and by little — by little dose of courage, by little kindness, by little gentleness — that we inhale the promise: to shake off our wobbles, stand tall, and launch the climb again.

at the start of this new year, it’s what i whisper. and what sets me on my way….

how do you practice the art of starting fresh?

dear chair people, i lost an entire post here, hit publish, and POOF!, the whole thing vanished, and i don’t know where it’s gone. photo up above is from my not-so-secret garden back in 60091, where the snows fell thick and soft last week, and out my kitchen window, i beheld the wonder of the freshest start.

whispering in the new year…

prayer for new year

might as well call this the front pew of my best church: i am home (as in home home) and sitting at my kitchen table, a pot of paperwhites tumbling its potent perfume, my old blue calico coffee mug a fist’s reach away.

it is hushed here, save for the tick and tock of the old clock i wound the other night when i found it stilled. the world beyond my window panes is blanketed in that rare snowy-morning quiet, so cotton-covered you could hear the flutter of a blue jay’s wing. which i hope to do, any moment now, now that i’ve scattered peanuts in the shell, and suet balls, and corn dried on the cob.

the morning light is bathed in the blue rinse of just past dawn. and dawn, i realize now, comes later here than back in cambridge, where the old faithful orb rising over the atlantic signals to the whole continent that the globe has spun again, and shadows soon will fall again. i slept without alarm and was surprised to wake up and see it was nearly seven bells. i slept in my old bed, between my old sheets, looking out on my nighttime tableau, the one i thought i knew by heart. but a couple mornings here, i’ve been all confused when i awoke. where am i? whose bed is this?

my little one said it best: christmas night all he wanted was a bubbly bath back in the old tub at the top of the stairs. so i went up to help him stir the froth. while he slipped into bathing gear (aka the stark nakedness of a boy), i spied a candy bar wrapper in the bathroom waste basket, and asked (since we’d just finished christmas dinner) if he’d eaten a candy bar before dinner (mothers ask these things, especially when the evidence is blatantly before their eyes).

“yeah,” he said. “i was sad.”

why were you sad? i asked, my breath sucked away by his candor, his capacity for unembellished zing straight to the core of his heart.

“because we’re home but it doesn’t feel like home.”

it’s like that when you sprout roots for a new place, but you come back to the old place. even when the place you come back to is the place you’ve been longing, aching, to be. even when the place you come back to was all dressed up for christmas by the elf who is living here while you’re away.

it takes some wobble time, till you figure out just where you are. till you catch your rhythm once again.

life, when you’re paying attention, isn’t often straight lines. rarely is. is rarely simple, pure, unfettered. it’s textured and shadowed, and full of zigs and zags. and therein lies the glory and the struggle.

that little fellow is far away right now, far away as i sit in my front row pew, keeping watch on the skittering about the backyard, now that squirrel and sparrow have sniffed out the morning’s repast. that little fellow is, for a few sweet days, up in the northwoods of wisconsin with one of his best best buddies, one he’s missed so much.

so i’m home alone with the college kid, and we’ve had long hours for conversations right here in the kitchen where so many have unfolded, going back 10 years (we moved into this old house 10 years ago, yesterday), going back to the heartaches of middle school, and straight on through to college quandaries, puzzles, and lessons learned.

because college kids are in the business of sleeping till dusk (we were scrambling breakfast eggs at 4 the other afternoon, i kid you not), i’ve the whole morning to myself. a holier launch to the new year, i can’t conjure up.

there’s been much that’s unfolded since last i was here, much that still is working its way into the depths of me, that i won’t fully understand for years most likely. you don’t try to catch mouthfuls from a firehose too many times in one sweet life, and when you are standing before the spigot all you do is swallow, swallow, swallow.

so it’s been in cambridge, 02138 and 02139.

now back in 60091, even for this too-short interlude, i’m too much in the midst of it, still asking too many unanswered questions, still finding my way too much to know just how it will all re-shape me. all i know is that it will, it has.

and, open vessel to what comes, i say: bring it on.

but here, on the cusp of this new year, this next chance to whirl around again, i am arms outstretched, head bowed, knees bent. i am walking in a veil of prayer.

i am seeking the unannounced tap on the shoulder, those moments when you realize you’ve just witnessed something holy. you’ve been brushed by the goodness of a stranger — or, better yet, the dearest sort of friend. you’ve felt a window in your mind slide open. you’ve beheld the pure and beautiful.

i am praying for protection, for white light to surround the ones i love, wherever they roam. whatever rivers they barrel down. whatever mountains they climb, or clouds they pierce through, on their way to faraway places.

i am praying, madly, for peace to settle in the turbulent hearts that populate the land. too many lands.

i am beseeching the Holy to plunge once again into the reserves of mercy, to forgive us all our sins and shortcomings, to bolster us in the places where we wobble, can’t catch our breath.

i am promising to marvel, to pay acute attention, and to be gentle — to myself, perhaps, most of all.

and my highest-launched prayer would be the one in which i remember to behold each morning as if a freshly-opened gift, and all day long i aim to stitch it with the majesty due another slice of being here. which simply put means being wholly, intently, alive.

to which i whisper, softly, amen, amen.

what do you pray for as this new year inches toward us? 

exuberance and a little knot

this is the detritus of the new year. or of the exuberant ushering in, i should say. it is piled beside my sleeping 5-year-old. he ushered in wildly.

not me. i took it in with a deep breath, a voracious prayer and something of a knot in my belly.

maybe it’s what happens when you are on the eve of your mid-century mark. maybe it’s what happens when you, sadly, come to know the ebbs and the flows of this life. there will be joy. there will be sorrow. it happens.

my 5-year-old, bless him, doesn’t have a clue. he was so thrilled to be up with the big people, he would have yelped for whatever the reason. so there he stood, one of a chorus line, all in their shiny paper hats, clenching noise makers with both fists, standing inches away from the couch, a couple feet from the screen where the shiny ball was glittering, blinking, seducing. for a kindergartner learning to count, this backwards tumble from 10 down to 1 was sheer joy: he could do it, he could be part of the roar. so he shook, and he leapt, and he counted.

and i stood off to the side. drinking in his exuberance. delighting in his delight. but not being able to swallow the dim-watted dread that had lodged in my throat.

then in the night, when the clock read 4 something, we awoke to our room bathed in the blinking red light of something amiss. oh, no, happy new year, i thought. or my husband, he said those words. it’s all rather foggy. but we groped, both of us, toward the window, and there, at the curb, was the ambulance. the dear old lady next door goes off in an ambulance sometimes once a month, sometimes more. but never before in the dark before dawn.

so on this night of brand new beginnings, we had gone to sleep to the pop-pop of pyrotechnics down the block, woke up to the red bath of light of an ambulance idling in the night.

kind of hard to shake off the trembly sense of what the new year will bring.

i pray to God we all have the strength to take it, whatever comes. i pray mightily, deeply, exuberantly.

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….