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empty room, full heart

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this is my little boy’s room. only it’s not his anymore. not officially. not where he plops his head at night, and tumbles into sleep.

he’s moved three steps down and around the bend.

everything at our house shifted this week.

one boy’s heart was broken, his summer days of soccer hollowed, left to wonder — as his friends, all his friends it seems, dash off to practice twice a day — why he couldn’t have grown just another six inches, maybe even 12. or more, if we were being greedy, really greedy. a goalie needs every inch he can get. our goalie has only 63. the other goalies have 77 and 75. the arithmetic of soccer is harsh, makes no allowances for size of heart.

another boy moved out, not too far away, 13.21 miles as the crow flies, to his first grown-up apartment. and the night we dropped him off, said goodbye, the little one’s tears soaked the t-shirt of the one who for the past year — for as far back as he can remember, really — has been his bumper pad and protector from all life’s knocks.

monday morning, while the older one drove his first load off to his apartment, the little one and i drove to the sterile pen where numbers are called, papers are signed, tests taken, and permits issued. we drive at night now, he and i, taking to the broadest swath of uninhabited parking lot we can find.

by wednesday, i was scrubbing, dusting, clearing out the last few bits from drawers. i tend to clean like crazy when my heart is upside down. i hauled this and that down from the attic. shoved a few things up for storing. boy no. 2 moved into what had been the long-time chamber of boy no. 1, a fellow more than likely never coming back, except for a night here or there, a stretch of nights if we’re so blessed.

and while we made a room for a boy who’ll find his way through the halls of a new high school, iIMG_8152 made a room that’s something of a relic of the boyhoods i so loved. the ones where books were tucked in corners, slid from shelves, pages turned. the boyhoods populated by wooden blocks and trains. now, a little chair sits empty. the alphabet rug, the one i once bought for a nursery, it’s off at the cleaners and the rug repair shop. i seem to be preserving a chapter of our lives, pressing it onto the pages of my heart. a little part of me, perhaps, is hoping that some day a new crop of little people will climb the stairs, turn the corner and see the wall of books, and the bins of blocks and puppets. but mostly, i think, i’m making a room for me, the mama who will never ever forget.

a room where when i walk in i hear the echoes of boys from long and not so long ago. where i pull any book off the shelf and turn a page, and suddenly i can picture the little hands and the voices who once begged for me to read that page over and over. and over.

the rooms in a house are like that, when they’re no longer used. one by one, most houses surrender rooms to time. a room once strewn wall-to-wall with elaborate block constructions becomes a room with sweaty socks and inside-out jerseys. years go by when you hardly see the floor. and then, there comes a dawn when the first beams of sunlight fall across hardwood slats that all but glow, so exposed they are, and not a hand puppet nor a book is out of place. when what you find in the morning is exactly as you left it at noon the day before.

but rooms hold memory, hold the rhythm of a heart that will not fade.

as certainly as the wooden soldier stands guard on the window ledge, as welcoming as the old bear now slumped against the wall, that room will harbor me. will wrap me in its particular embrace. will be my tucked-away respite at the top of the stairs.

for the days when i need retreat. for the days when all i want is to step back in time, to remember how it was and how we got here. for the days when nothing soothes my soul so much as the far-off whisperings of the room that grew my sweet, sweet boys. the room that holds my heart.

do you have a nook or a cranny in your house that holds more than a life-size relic of your heart? IMG_8121

tender is the earth

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i am submitting to the tilting of the earth. as the oozy patch of mud that is my very own fraction of acreage leans into the less-diluted rays of the great burning star that is the sun, pivot point of the universe, as adagio quickens, and feathered choristers raise their warbles by decibels upon decibels, i allow myself to be wrapped in the soft skeins of earth unfurling, earth letting loose its tight and clenched long-winter’s grip.

i am brushing up against its tendrils, its newborn threads, as i tiptoe down my bluestone walk. as i plop my bum on bluestone stoop, the one that hasn’t yet released its wintry chill. i crouch down low, and run my fingertips across the frilly tops of fronds, just beginning to poke beyond the crust of earth, just beginning to contemplate the art of opening, sun salutation of the new spring garden.

i can’t get close enough — save for rolling in the dewy grass, smearing fists of mud across my knees and elbows. or climbing up a tree, to discover how it feels to be a bird, warbling across the heavens, toes clinging to the bough.

all in all, my daily pull is to the pulse point where earth and sky entwine, where winter’s hibernation gives way to springtime’s insistent release. i drink in the lessons, the unspoken parable: it’s letting-go time, it’s time to uncoil, time to put aside the winter pose — one born of sorrow, yes, and a hollowed-out sense of quietude — time to practice the gentle nudge, bow down low to the invitation, the one that whispers, “i offer healing, if you lean in close, breathe deep the wholeness, the promise, of the season.”

i allow myself, day upon day, hour after hour, to be soothed by the blessed balm of earth at its tenderest. of earth when heaven first begins to draw forth what’s been tucked inside for all the weeks and months of darkness.

it’s dawned on me, as i make my daily rounds of close inspection, that the truth of springtime is that of revelation, long-held secrets breaking through the cloak that kept them shrouded, not seen, forgotten.

the beautiful, come springtime, is no longer under wraps. those yellow petals clinging to the branch? the tight buds of hyacinth just periscoping through the earth? it’s all creation trumpeting its truths. it’s all been there all along, sacred DNA tightly wadded, awaiting heaven’s cue.

and now it’s come, the call to rise and shine and strut the fresh-born splendor; must have tiptoed in while we were napping. so now, perhaps, it’s time for us to ponder too what’s been hiding deep inside of all of us, while we waited out the winter.

and while i wonder what the days and weeks ahead might bring, what beauties might be on the cusp, i’m savoring this tender interlude, these holy blessed hours when all the earth is gentle invitation, and balm for where the winter wore me raw.

i seem to be transfixed — you might call it “stuck” — by the slow unfolding out my door and windows. day by day, week by week, i’m keeping watch. mesmerized would be the word. drinking deep the healing offered by this holy blessed earth, the one so alive in spring. 

since my offering feels thin today, i’ll add to it with two addenda. the first is a celebration of a blessed angel among us, the cook in the night kitchen of what was once called children’s memorial hospital (and now has someone’s too-long name attached). just last night she wrapped up 50 years on the job. a half century of serving up love and prayer, with a side of oozy grilled cheese. one of my beloved nurse friends let me in on the chapter’s ending, so i dug into my archives and found this story i wrote for the chicago tribune in 2009, when she’d been on the job for a mere 43 years. 

to whet your appetite, perhaps, here are the first few paragraphs of miss bettye tucker’s story: 

One by one, night light by night light, the rooms go dim in the not-so-hushed place where sick children, broken children, dying children, finally fall into sleep.

One by one, room by room, the big people who’ve held little hands, dried tears and rocked fevered babies all day long at Children’s Memorial Hospital surrender for a moment their long night’s watch.

It is time for all the keepers of the children–the parents, the nurses, the doctors, the ones who mop the floors, the ones who keep the respirators breathing in and out–to be fed by the comfort-slinging cook in the night kitchen.

This much-loved healer with a soup pot and a prayer is known to all as, simply, Miss Bettye.

bettye tucker

miss bettye tucker

the other offering is the latest of my roundups of books for the soul, with works that blew my mind from rabbi jonathan sacks, and a patron poet-saint of the chair, dear mary oliver.

what lessons do you learn from keeping watch on early spring?

grape hyacinth

pulled by heart

lunch

the hour hand had just nudged itself past 5. the tableau out the window was black-on-black. the bedsheets, warm, toasty warm. the soft folds of the flannel, pulled snug against my shoulders, invited one last episode of sleep. all i wanted was one more hour. but then i remembered.

the light down the hall was already splintered through the crack under the door. the soft bells of an alarm were faintly chiming. the whoosh of the shower broke the pre-dawn hush of a house just beginning to rouse. i knew my firstborn was up and getting dressed. i knew he’d soon be barreling into the morning’s bitter cold. the headlights of his little black car would shine down the alley, turn toward the city, to the west side, to the streets where just a week ago a bullet pierced the window of the pre-K classroom in the school where he teaches. the bullet shattered glass. sailed across the room, ramrodded a metal pipe, ricocheted. hit no one. thank God. but the cluster of little 4-year-olds, who by the grace of God had been clustered at that instant on the far side of the classroom, away from the bank of sidewalk-level windows, they heard the blast, the ping, and at last the thud of the bullet dropping to the classroom’s hard tile floor. deadly sounds. sounds that shouldn’t be heard in a pre-K classroom. or any classroom anywhere.

a week ago, at 2:46 p.m., i got this text from my firstborn:

There’s been a shooting outside school. We are in lockdown, but I am okay, so are my students. Do not call, I don’t want there to be any noise in my room.

a mother’s heart all but stops when she reads those words.

it would be another hour till he called, till i heard the rush of air i knew as his voice. it was over now, he told me.

the children had all been shepherded into the hands of parents. or grandparents. or some adult who’d get them home. he, too, was headed home, he told me. shaken, so shaken by the news of what happened in the pre-K. shaken by the holes in the metal screen and the pane of glass. shaken by the glass that shattered in what looked like a cobweb of shards. shaken by the long hour’s lockdown, not knowing the whole time — as he tried to keep his sixth graders quiet — whether the shooter was inside or out of the building. shaken by footsteps that ran down the hall, toward his classroom, where the door had been locked. shaken by the news that a mother who’d come to school early to take home her young child had stepped out the school’s front door into the direct line of two men with guns chasing down the sidewalk, shooting. the mother threw her little one to the sidewalk, then threw herself — hard — on top. she waited, she’d told a teacher, lay stone still, not knowing if she’d be hit. fully expecting the thud of a bullet to her back. or worse.

monday, my kid came home with word that 46 kids of 180 kids hadn’t come to school that day. parents kept them home. they’re not used to bullets piercing classroom windows. not even on the west side of chicago. he said, too, that the only two white kids in the school, kids whose parents teach there, they’d been pulled. “a social experiment they weren’t willing to risk any longer,” was how he put it.

and then he said, “mom, if i tell you something, promise not to freak out.”

ooo-kay.

“there’s apparently a turf war in the neighborhood, and (school) is in the middle of it.”

and so as you hear those words, as they barely begin to settle onto your eardrums, onto your heart, you somersault into prayer. your every inhale breathes in prayer. your exhale begins the next, an endless loop of prayer after prayer.

you settle yourself down, slowly. over the course of hours, as you turn round and round the heartache, the insanity of it all, as you sift through the shards, examine from all angles. imagine the worst. consider the kids who call those streets home. who can’t leave.

you pray mightily.

and then, yesterday on the front page of the newspaper, there was a story with eery echoes. it was a story that happened last friday, just five hours after the bullet shattered the window of my kid’s school. it happened three miles due south. a bullet — out of nowhere — pierced the driver’s side window of a parked car where a young 25-year-old woman was sitting, talking on her cellphone to her dad in san diego. suddenly, he told the reporters who had called him, she started to say her head hurt, her head hurt. then the phone went dead. the dad in san diego couldn’t figure out what happened. frantic, he called his daughter’s boyfriend, who called her roommate, who ran out onto the street and down the block where she found the woman slumped, near dead. the woman died from a bullet that “came out of nowhere;” two men chasing down the street with guns. the stray bullet — a bullet not meant for her — killed her.

as i sat there reading the news story, tracing the lines that connected her story to the one i knew from my own kid’s school — same day, same short span of hours, same damn  scenario, guns and chasing and flying bullets — i shuddered at the tragedy, shuddered for the father who now told the story, who now tried to explain how — as she sat in her car on her quiet street on her way home from a job where she’d just gotten a promotion, in a city she loved and had moved to after college — he was now burying his daughter, “the only one in her preschool class who could read, a straight-A high school student, a magna cum laude college graduate,” the father told the reporters.

and so this morning, knowing my kid was getting dressed to go back to the school where the pre-K window is now covered in plywood, while they wait for new glass to come, while they all pray for calm in the streets, i yanked back the sheets, and i planted my wobbly feet on the cold wood floor of my bedroom. i shuffled down the stairs, and i opened the fridge. i piled turkey on slabs of bread. i tossed in an apple. i poured a tall to-go cup of coffee.

not for one minute could i send my kid out into the cold, back to school, back to streets where a gang war wages, and not do the feeble things a mama does: i slathered mustard on bread, i folded slices of deli turkey, i tucked it all in the little brown bag he uses day after day. i prayed the whole while. i prayed mightily.

when he tumbled down the stairs, and saw me standing there with my mustard knife in hand, he looked surprised. “mommo, what are you doing here?”

just packing lunch, was all i said. he knows me well, my kid of 22 years. he knew without me saying so that that sandwich was super-packed. stacked with prayer upon prayer. besides the turkey.

as i closed the door behind him, as i told him i loved him, called out,”be safe,” i traced a sign of the cross onto the back of his thick winter coat. it’s all i could do.

it’s the truth of motherhood, or one of them anyway: we’re armed with so very little. especially when up against a world of flying, piercing, life-taking bullets.

yet we don’t abandon our station: we rise before the dawn, we shuffle down the stairs, we do what little we can. we pack a lunch, with a motherlode of prayer.

we are pulled by heart out of slumber. we are pulled by heart into prayer. deep into prayer.

what will we do? what can we do? is there any way out of this insanity that spills blood on the front seats of cars, on front porches, and playgrounds, and too many sidewalks and streets in this city?

i heard the wind howl

blustery day pooh

i heard the wind howl, that shiver-your-spine whistle of late november, the one that tells you the world is being stirred. the one that always reminds me, always stops me in my tracks, whispers: there’s a force infinitely bigger than you, there’s a force to lean into.

it’s the sound of something’s coming. it’s the sound of batten the hatches. and yesterday afternoon it wasn’t much longer till i heard the words, “snow advisory.” followed by “three to six inches.”

once again, i find my soul pulled by the world around me. i’m just a puppet on a string, i sometimes think, and i let my prayerfulness be defined by slip-sliding myself into the Big Book of Nature, the one all around, the one that whirls and whistles and blossoms and withers, the one that drenches and parches, sometimes stirs not a leaf, and some days makes like we’ve stepped inside the waring blender.

when the whistle begins to blow, when autumn’s shrill cry rattles the window panes, seeps in through the eighth of an inch under the door (old houses don’t know from taut construction), i commence the pulling-in posture. i might take to the couch, i might take to the underside of the afghan. or, just as likely, i might press my nose to the glass. wait. watch. scan the heavens for sign of storm coming.

i suppose it’s a sign of my spiritual weakness, my saintly shortcoming, that i’ll take a dose of drama any old day. gets the juices rolling, i find. shakes me into my senses. heightens my paying-attention antenna. i pretty much dare you to see tree trunks bending in half, posing in downward dog of the woods, and not snap to salute.

but then, once i’m wide-eyed, i begin to go deep and deeper inside. prayers take off. i am grateful for walls, yes, and roof overhead. grateful, so grateful, for that box in the basement that cranks all the heat. i’m grateful for days that don’t demand i leave the house. grateful for 10-quart kettles that simmer with bones and broth and whatever the produce bin has offered up for the cause (the cause, of course, being kitchen-sink soup, a name that i now realize needs some revision).

once those elemental gratefuls are out of the way, i sink deeper still. as i scan the sky for sooty snow clouds, survey the heavens, i begin to survey my own deep-down depths. there is much down there deserving of contemplation, there is much coursing, much that begs to be unearthed, lifted, turned over to the one who stirs the wind.

year after year, it’s the first winter storm that packs the mightiest wallop, the one that throttles us back to our proper perspective: we are defenseless if left to our own devices. we’d be battered without whatever, whomever, blankets us, keeps us safe from the elements.

my second instinct on days when the weather report is written in caps, with long strings of exclamation marks, and maybe even an asterisk or three, is to make like auntie em in the wizard of oz, to head out the door to batten those hatches: anchor the bird houses, strip the landscape of soon-to-be-flying projectiles, slip the old glass bottles off the ledge in the summer porch. and, of course, dump seed for the birds, make sure the water basin is filled, should any one of the soon-to-be-scattered flocks decide a pre-emptive guzzle is in order.

it seems especially apt this year, as the landscape of the world at large and the more private one i know best are both so cloaked in sadness, it’s apt that the wind is calling us out of ourselves, pressing our nose to the glass, stirring the breeze deep inside, rustling up prayer. we’re about to be shaken into our places again.

november’s wind is the call to attention. we’d do best to listen.

and pray.

in searching for an image of winnie-the-pooh and the blustery day, i realized our well-worn copy of a.a. milne’s masterpiece, illustrated by the ever-charming e.h. shepard, has gone missing, which is a terrible thing to discover. so i made do with a frame from the original disney version. and i am so sad for the page that’s missing in action.

what calls you to attention in these blustery days of november?

summer interruptus…

black-eyed susan and queen anne's lace

we now resume our regular programming…

so here we are, back to summer. it seems we were momentarily absconded by creatures from some foreign planet, ones who might as well have hovered down in flying saucer, grabbed us by the ankles and yanked us to some far-off somewhere. or maybe nowhere. there we were merrily minding our own business when suddenly we were besieged by elements that don’t belong to summer: fevers, and aches, and day trips to the ER.

but we’re back now, or on our way anyway, and as we look around and guzzle down the summer sights and sounds, we can’t help but note the galloping percussive undertone, the one that tells us days are fleeting, tomatoes ripen on the vine and we’d best partake in double-time. before we know it, homework will clog the kitchen counter, lunch boxes will be a daily grind, and missing buses will be a morning ritual.

so grab the summer now!

the single glimmer of goodness i’ve unearthed in my fevered summer siege is that as the fog lifts, as sitting down to type doesn’t sound impossible, and a stroll through the grocery store doesn’t seem insurmountable, i’m once again reminded not to take for granted how fresh and fine a clear-eyed vision of the day is. i see quite crisply what a gift it is to have the oomph to cobble a to-do list (because when you’re held hostage by the fever aliens, even a simple one, two, three is beyond your able reach).

so as i sit here on a summer’s morn, the sound of mowers whirring in the distance, the cool whiff of lake breeze tickling at my toes, i marvel at a whole day awaiting me to wrap my arms around it.

we’re overdue for summer here. so i’ll spend the day making up lost time. i’ve nodding black-eyed susans to tuck into my old cracked pitcher. somewhere there’s a fat tomato awaiting shake of salt. a boy i love turns 14 tomorrow, another one blew out birthday candles late last night. today’s the bridge between two birthdays, and it’s a sweet spot in every summer. thank goodness i’m wide-eyed and standing straight, more than ready to pick up where we left off.

seems as fine a time as any, to brush up on summer’s wonders with this cobbled list, clipped from the pages of Slowing Time, the book:

summertime’s Wonderlist

it’s the season of . . .

firefly flicker: the original flash of wonder . . .

fledgling’s first flight, lesson in resilience . . .

cricket chorus, that chirpity blanket tucking in the nighttime, “audible stillness” in the poetry of nathaniel hawthorne . . .

butterfly couplet shimmering across the lazy afternoon . . .

sweet corn, buttered, dripping down your chin . . .

ditto: the peach . . .

putting thumb to the hose: water therapy at its most meditative …

Perseid’s meteoric chalk marks etched across the blackboard of midsummer’s pre-dawn sky . . .

scribble your own here (what summer wonders do you intend to seize before the season flutters by?):

p.s. please forgive the brevity today. that fever clipped our wings….

coming home

as much as i loved tiptoeing down to the porch that wrapped around the grand old hotel, as much as i loved creaking in those old wicker rocking chairs, my palms wrapped round the mugs of first-of-the-morning coffee, the just-blooming, just-exploding viburnum and magnolia doing a perfumed waltz up my nose, i am home now, and already i’m thinking there is no place that soothes me quite like coming back in the door of the place that knows me, the place that i know, that i love, that keeps time right with my heart.

we took ourselves a little road trip this week. not too far. not too long. down to nooks and crannies of the southern midwest, to hilly southern indiana, near where it brushes up against kentucky, and on over to kentucky, too. to where my roots begin.

on a bit of a whim, we rode out to the itty-bitty country town of paris. yes, as in kentucky, 14 miles north and east of lexington. out to where my papa was a boy, out to the horse farms he knew like family, even though he lived in town, before they up and moved to the big city, to get my papa to schools his mama must have decided were a better fit for a boy with a school mind like his.

the closer we got to paris, the more i missed my papa, missed him like i’d just left him yesterday but couldn’t ever get him back. i missed him so much my heart started to hurt as we rode along the road they call the paris pike, where century-old stone fences line the farms that roll, acre upon acre, blue-grass mile after blue-grass mile.

i wasn’t quite sure how to get to the farm that we claim as our own, the one whose name you might find on the can of baking powder there at the back of your pantry. calumet is the one. calumet farm. and my papa grew up there; his big brother, the one he loved who died in the war, he ran the place, and all these years later, when i sit down to watch the derby, the kentucky derby of course, i hear someone whisper “calumet,” or i see the crimson-and-white silks the calumet jockey always wears, and my heart skips a beat.

“our farm,” i think, as if a connection from back in the 1930s and ’40s, holds one drop of weight anymore. and sure enough, when we got there, the crimson iron gate was closed, all but locked. and the fellow who came to the phone let me know i wasn’t someone for whom they’d swing it open. place was closed for the day, he said loud and clear, made sure i heard it all the way at the end of the very long drive, even though we were talking over the dial-up intercom planted there by the gatehouse, and i heard every word all right. so i stood there on the outside of the locked, lacy ironwork, feeling quite wholly my place in its history: shut out. an insignificant afterthought. nothing more than a nuisance, there where they won’t let you in.

but before that, when i’d stopped in the offices of the town newspaper, and told the nice ladies that my papa grew up there, and i was looking for calumet farm, well, they couldn’t have been kinder. they all but pulled out the kentucky pie, and a plate and a fork. all but poured me a cup of afternoon coffee. instead, they asked me my papa’s name. then they started to tell me all about his family, where they lived, where they went to church. i tell you, no one with his last name has lived there for a long long time. but in little towns like paris, kentucky, they remember. make you feel just like family, there in the newspaper office on main.

but not at the gates of the farm now owned by someone altogether new. someone from far, far away, i’ve been told.

for four days and four nights, i slept in beds that don’t know my particular lumps. drank coffee that wasn’t brewed in my pot. i walked and looked and listened, and found myself quite content, out discovering a part of the middle of america i hadn’t seen in a long long time, and other parts i’d never seen before.

i do love mucking about, discovering, finding the familiar far far away.

but, once again, as always, i discovered just a short while ago that the familiar that i love best, the familiar that soothes me through and through, is the familiar that i know by heart: the particular tick and tock of all our old clocks, the pit-a-pat of the old cat’s paws as he ambled down the steps once he heard us there in the kitchen.

why, i love tossing old car-bumped apples back in the bin, finding everything there in the fridge where i left it, only a bit more wrinkled and the milk gone sour. i even found myself humming as i threw the first load of road-trip clothes into the wash, the machine whose groans and burps i know inside and out.

coming home will always be the closest i come to purring, pure and simple. give me the floorboards that creak just where i know they will. give me the garden whose every bulb i tucked in that holy sacred earth.

i’ll miss those front-porch rocking chairs, come morning. but the coffee will be just the way i like it, with two or three shakes of cinnamon, there on top of the mound before i close the lid and wait.

back home in my kitchen, humming.

what do you love best about coming home? or are you a travelin’ soul? 

and just in case you are interested, that lovely porch and those rocking chairs can be found at the west baden springs hotel, in west baden, indiana, just this side of the hoosier national forest, not far from brown county, a place worth a road trip, indeed.

one last bit of homecoming joy: my mama, closest thing i know to a saint plenty of days, she came by to stock the fridge and leave two fat bouquets of viburnums on the countertop, right beside the kitchen sink, so when we walked in from the road trip, first thing i inhaled was the viburnum waltz, same as the one that made me swoon back on the west baden’s wrap-around porch. oh, i wish there was a smell button here, so i could waft it right by your nose. you’ll just have to close your eyes now, and pretend. try this: imagine what heaven would smell like, if it bloomed on a bush.

of fairy tales, alone in the dark

it came rushing in, that great rare blast of happily-ever-after, so especially delicious in these long days of murky darkness that swirl and swirl around, almost without pause.

the world, downright hungry for a delicious morsel, after all the bitter banquets–wars, tsunamis, mile-wide twisters.

i had a hunch i’d not pass up the chance to swoon, to tear up, alone in the dark, connected by a lit-up box, to a place, a spectacle, so very far away.

and so, when the cat obligingly meowed at 3-something, i ripped back the covers, and tiptoed right behind. i saw the moonlight draped across my garden; i noticed out the window, candles twinkling from the wall of windows in the house next door.

i was alone, but not alone at all.

i clicked on the telly, wrapped a wide wool blanket ’round my chilly legs. i settled in, knowing just next door the house was filled with silver-haired ladies, anglophiles all, gathered in their wedding finery, sipping fizzly drinks, sinking teeth in strawberries. at 3:20 in the morning.

i waited while i watched the royal cars queue toward the abbey. i remembered back to the last time i was awake to watch westminster, the sad dark day in 1997 when they buried another princess, the mother of this handsome groom, this boy we’ve watched grow up.

oh, i know it’s all quiet sappy but isn’t it the prescription that we need to fill our lungs, trigger just a bit the heartbeat, stoke again our dreams of love and solid footing, and waltzing toward the sunset?

i’ll take it, drink it, press it up against my pajama-clad flat chest.

oh, i admit, i’ve been one for fairy tales my whole life long. always root for endings that make me misty-eyed and get my heart pumping surely, strongly, the steady percussion of promise just around the bend.

i love to watch a great romance, stoked in youth on those rare nights when i was invited in by my mostly-stoic mama to stay up late, and watch till the very end, some gauzy-filtered hollywood version of happy-ever-after.

i’d glance over, on those sweet nights, catch my mama brush away a tear as i brushed away my own. a sweet shared lump in the pit of our incurably romantic throats. it made me understand that my mama was so much more than just the one who scolded me for hiding all my peas beneath the rim of the dinner plate, or not picking up my clothes. it was the rare glimpse beyond all that, and perhaps in large measure that’s why i hold those happy-ever-endings so deeply dear.

i’ve always been insatiable in the S.A.P. department.

back when i was little, and full of dreams, i’d read myself to sleep many a night, turning pages in my fairy-tale picture books, absorbed into the pictures, writing my way into the script. imagining. imagining.

the birthing, really, of a life spent peering through a rosy lens. of keeping watch for the ruby slippers that might slide on the smudged-up cinderella, who so deserves the pumpkin carriage.

and isn’t it now a much-needed dose of cast-aside-your-cares? the cares upon us all these days are thick and deep. the worries bend our brow, stoop our shoulders, make our ankles wobble.

we have worries aplenty. nights we lay awake, playing and replaying the script of a story we wish would go away.

so what’s the harm in tiptoeing down the stairs in striped pajamas, and red-plaid robe, as the clock chimes half past three? and we are whisked away, by airwaves, to a city built by kings and queens, to gush and sigh as a fairy tale unfolds, and, because we love to unspool the storyline, stitch together broken parts, we imagine, we hope, that at last some part of the empty place inside a prince’s heart is filled, not by the ghost of his long-gone mama, but by the blushing beauty of his bride?

it was a good stiff drink of jubilation that came rushing in before the dawn. and all the more delicious because it’s one so rarely poured.

and i, among the many commoners, sipped lustily this morn. and pray for peace among us all, as we, scattered here and there and everywhere, join hearts in wishing for a passage of most contented joy.

and happy-ever-after.

did you take in the wedding? of what did it make you dream?? and did you not just love the dress, the lacy sleeves and most especially that demure-yet-sculpted V-neck???

p.s. and as i sat here typing, i caught the lovely couple driving away (the duke of cambridge at the wheel, for heaven’s sake) from the castle in a royal blue aston-martin, with a shiny cloud of mylar red and white and silver balloons bobbing in their trail. breathtaking, really, to see such abundance of joy and shaking off the stiff tradition that puts such distance between the royals and the masses. happy-ever-after already…

in defense of the tear, especially when it spills in multiples

it is a subject near and dear to my heart, and i see, here, that it has made front-page news.

the subject, friends, is the tear. the tear in multiples. the tear when it streams and blurbles. makes for sloppy cheeks, runny nose, and eyeballs that run toward rosy-fingered red.

it might, in fact, be the biological underpinning of much of what unfolds here at the table, much of what unfolds in my life. for i happen to be–and my guess is many of you are, too–one for whom the heart and the tear ducts are inevitably, inextricably, inexorably TANGLED.

there is nary a galump in my heart that does not immediately and without notice send dispatch straight to that wee spigot in my eyes, which in turn, does as it’s done since the hour of my birth: it spurts.

yes, it emits droplets that turn to drops that turn to streams and rivulets and sometimes whirling gushing whitewater rapids.

oh, yes, if there’s a talent that i have, a something that defines me, it would be my penchant for the holy blessed tear.

i cry, well, at the drop of a hat.

okay, so maybe falling skicaps don’t cause me to sob and heave in sighs. but i cry easily and freely and without censure.

so, it comes as no surprise that when the news of the day is that droplet dear to my heart, i am all ears. or eyes, as the case might be.

i am riveted (or is that rivuleted?).

i am soaking up the news. (kleenex at the ready.)

why, there on the radio in the squawky pre-dawn hours i heard it, and then again, there it was on the front page of the great gray newspage slapped upon my kitchen table: “In Women’s Tears, a Chemical That Says, ‘Not Tonight, Dear’”

harumph.

well, if that’s what the headline writers and hard-boiled researchers choose to think, then let them drown in salty sorrows.

that is not, nor has it ever been, the intent behind my soggy eyes and nose and cheeks.

according to the so-called baffled scientists, the perplexing question is this: why do humans, unlike seemingly any other species, cry emotional tears?

and why, after collecting gallons and gallons of saline-stoked specimens (the chemistry flask attached to someone’s cheek, egad!), do they reach the scientific conclusion that to the male of the species the gosh-darn tears are nothing but a, um, turn-off of the sexual sort. and that, at root, is the surging force behind the human rain.

pish tosh, say i.

as a chief proponent and lifelong practitioner of the subject under probe, i am here to tell the scientists to pack up their itty-bitty beakers, their chemistry sets, and go home to take a nap.

there is little science to be had here, this is all heart. it is the essence of empathy, spilled forth.

there are simply those of us who can’t help but hear a tender something, read a worthy tale and suddenly it goes like this: the heart, an expandable vessel if ever there was one, becomes engorged with what can only be termed pure heart, the condition in which one erases the line between me and thee and feels a swallowing up of the whole. we throb with that of which we think. we become the one we read about, we hear about, we see, we touch, we hold.

we lead with our hearts, some of us.

and our soggy eyeballs follow. dripping right along.

our hearts expand, our spigots flow.

no science needed. no collecting tears. no talking to the opposite sex. no hypothesis or hypotenuse need apply.

we, some of us, consider the flowing waters of our heart — the ones that happen to pour from the corners of our eyes — to be among the holiest, most sacred ablutions since creation.

think back to the moments when they flowed: when you skinned your knee. when the girl on the playground called you names. when the bee stung. when you won the essay contest. when at last you walked across the stage on graduation night, and no one thought you’d make it. when the ones you loved hopped in the car and drove away. the night your papa died. and every day after for most of a year.

when the one you loved stood at the end of the aisle, and clasped his hand over his heart as you walked toward him.

when the doctor poked her head in the room and said, “you’re pregnant.” and later, when she sat beside you, took your hand, and said, “i am so sorry.”

just the other day, when your little one, now nine, handed you a hand-drawn card, titled, “the why [we] love you page,” and counted up to 20, the reasons why.

no, my tears have never meant anything close to “not tonight, dear.” and i doubt that they’ve been read that way (certainly, i hope, not by the mailman who saw me dissolve in silent streams once upon a time when he handed me the big fat letter that i’d been hoping for).

no, my tears are pure. and real. and very very wet.

my tears sanctify the moments that matter. they punctuate the ones that don’t mean so much, but still they make me wobble deep inside.

my tears are not a part of me that i’ll plug up, hold back, or brush away.

some of us, dear scientists, were simply born with big supplies of excess on-board waters. some of us have whoopper-sized pumps and pipes that run, direct, non-stop, from heart to eyeballs.

we mean only this when we wash our hours in the tears that freely flow: this moment is a sacred one, and we’re anointing it with the nearest thing to heaven’s spring.

what makes you cry? do you cry easily, or are your tears hard-won?

dear chair people, i am thinking that perhaps it’s time again for the chair to take on a new rhythm, one that flows when the spirit moves. i do love, on one hand, the weekly practice of writing. but i do feel that perhaps the chair has not kept pace with the world wide web that speeds right past it. nor am i certain that there’s a need to write out loud. the dedicated dream to write daily for a year gave way to three more years of writing once a week. maybe now it’s time to write in syncopated rhythm. not merely once a week. but then again not maybe each week. maybe i will record the unfolding of this year, as my firstborn heads toward college, in the quiet of the pages of my journal. maybe sometimes it will seem there is something to say here that i can’t say anywhere else. i know everyone’s lives are busy, and i don’t want to stingily take up air space. as a wise editor of mine said just a few years back when i ran into him in the produce aisle: “everyone’s talking these days, and no one’s listening.” maybe it’s time to listen. and whisper to myself…..

of sandy toes and summer pangs…

consider the toes above the official portrait of the start of summer. full of sand, soaked in lake wash. the aftermath of a long hot afternoon romping on the beach nearby with at least two dozen romping boys, fueled by chips and twizzlers, at best a half a PBJ (and that, only after persistent mama pleading). oh, lord, what were we thinking?

i worked from home the other morn, so i could be there for the noisy school bell, the last one of the year, the one that sends the goosebumps down my spine, every time, every june.

the one that says, summer starts here. right now. this whole delicious minute.

when not a second yet’s been shaved, worn, wasted (as if a minute of time could ever be wasted).

when i’ve not yet heard the wail, “i’m bored. there’s nothing here to do.” (glory be to boredom, the birthing place of big ideas, if left to stew for long enough…)

you don’t hear that siren song on day one of summer. not for the first half hour anyway.

and, as always, i wanted to be there to soak it in, to watch that beaming face come bounding out the door, the weightless backpack flailing from my little one’s shoulders.

my little one…..a phrase i might just have to hang up for good, on the hook in the front closet, along with this year’s ratty backpack, along with the lunchbox he’s outgrown, the one with superman’s cape, flapping from behind, the one he’s had since first grade, but now hides if i forget to instead use the plain red square one, if i pack it with his PBJ, and god forbid a love note tucked inside.

it hit me wednesday morn. hit me harder than the fact that my older one is now a so-called “rising senior,” will soon be in his last year of high school.

somehow, that doesn’t make me wobble quite as much as the little one moving on, on his way to fourth grade, the oldest grade of kids at his little school, the starter school, the one where reading’s secrets are unlocked, the one where kids learn about lunch lines and recess bells, the one where mamas hover by the schoolhouse door and aren’t yet greeted by rolling eyeballs, cocked shoulders, the air of you-embarrass-me.

my so-called little one, come end of august, will be–at last/so soon–among the big kids, one of the lanky stretched-out ones the little kindergartners look up to, crane their necks to see above the waist, so seriously do they tower over brand new 5-year-olds trying to find their way, somehow, to the boys’ or girls’ bathrooms, or, wait, was it the nurse’s office they’re searching for?

my little one might be no more.

oh, sure he’ll by my littlest one forever and ever amen. but little by little, the little part is slipping away. he’ll hold hands still–but only if it’s pitch-black dark, and we hear rustling in the bushes. if i slip and call him sweetie anywhere in earshot of another human 8- or 9-year-old, i get the dagger glance. how dare you? the hazel-brown eyes ask, subject me to such humiliation?

but that’s not the whole point here.

the point, mostly, is summer. and how i am longing for the seasonal distinctions that tell me something’s changed, we’ve shed the weighty school year, we’ve slid into the carefree days.

and while i did notice how bedtime hasn’t been a worry these past two nights, and while right now i’ve two sleeping boys in rooms just above my head, i am longing for the kind of summer that i only remember.

i am longing for a summer where my little one needn’t be rushed out the door, and into a carpool, headed off to camp.

i’m longing for the days of old, when caramel-colored little boy legs, all scraped around the knees, with cotton boy-print pajama shorts, came traipsing down the stairs, into the kitchen, and sat down to the sports page and a bowl of cheerios. when there was a fort in progress out back. when once those boys wolfed down the last little O, they’d be back to where they left off the night before.

the boys who inhabit that picture show are not my own, they’re my brothers. and the construction site in that ever-looping frame was the thicket down by the fence, near the gulley. or across the creek in the woods.

i am longing for popsicles, made from kool-aid. or, considering the calendar, the fact that this is 21st-century frozen confection and kool-aid has been deemed 100% artificial and thus bankrupt, i suppose we’ll go with fruit juice, and berries floating down below, before the freezing comes.

i am longing for twilight suppers, lit by fireflies and dripping candles, inside the summer porch, where the breeze wafts through screens, and we take our time, because no one’s in a hurry.

because in summertime, there are no worries. or at least not the way i wish summer to be.

i am, as always, longing for long afternoons curled up in the shade with a book i can’t put down.

i am longing for a fat tomato, and the juice dribbling down my chin, splattering my t shirt, a red badge of summer honor.

i am longing for corn on the cob, each yellow bump type-set across the row bursting with the taste of sun and field and america’s heartland.

i am even longing for long hours to yank weeds from my garden, where the pushing and shoving among the roots and stems is getting out of hand. and the weeds seem to stand a chance of winning best-of-show.

and more than in the winter, spring or fall, i am wishing on a star that my typing job didn’t call me way downtown, so far away from all that summer wishes it could be.

maybe i should call in sick for all of summer.

this is less meander and more just scrapbook. a compendium of thinking from the week. but here’s where you come in….what’s on your list of summer longings, and how will you make dreams come true?

the hard past of day one, summer, was that i didn’t get to stay at the beach with all the other carefree mamas. i had to get back to the keyboard. i left my little one under someone else’s wings. and i need that camp carpool because–despite his protests–camp serves as summer childcare. drat.

finally, a plea for a prayer or three for my dear mother-in-law, a loyal chair reader, who has an appointment with a surgeon come monday, and we want to whisk her straight to bump-free recovery. sending love. of course.

when to stick your nose in the lilacs

antibiotics are one thing. they work, as i’ve seen zillions of times, when your throat is raw as if sandpaper-rubbed.

they manage to quash all sorts of bugs. the ones that bring fevers deep in the night, the ones that make bones feel practically poisoned, what with all of the aching and all of the shaking.

oh, they might come in horse-pill dimensions. or in thick goopy glop that your children must swallow, after they’ve scared you with all of their gagging.

unfortunately, all of life’s pains are not the bacterial kind.

every once in a while the wallop is brought by nerves that are shot. so tired. so spent. so flat-out-of-steam.

it’s been one of those weeks around here. make that, one of those months. oh, go wild, call it one of those schoolyears.

in simple declarative terms it is this: junior year of high school, at Big Pressure High, when the course load is thick, is intense, is wholly immense.

without spelling out the hair-pulling moments, without counting off the nights without sleep, let’s assume for the sake of discussion that there have been plenty of both.

gobs.

mountains.

heck, whole pyrenees ranges, stretching clear to barcelona.

and as i sit here typing, i have reason to think that phase one of the torture might just have lurched to a close. a young lad i happen to know, one 6-2 and counting, he is, at this very hour, lifting the flap on his messenger sack, extracting 12 pages of thesis from there in the depths, and plopping said load on the desk of his teacher.

no more worrying about that.

the junior theme, now typed, paper-clipped, bibliographed, is checked off the life list.

and so, people, we inch our aching, tired, slumping mortal frames into recovery phase.

there is only so much of a siege that one little house can endure.

and the typing all night seems to have hushed. i hear only the sound of my keys, the ones at the ends of my bone-tired fingers. there’s nary an echo from that room up above.

how then does one begin to salve the worn-ragged nerves of a parental unit (a pair of those, thanks be to God) now spiraling down from highest alert?

one begins, i suppose, by emergency airlift to the grocery store. who let the milk jug run dry? and where is the bread to smear with the butter that’s nowhere in sight?

why, lordy, this cottage has gone to the dogs.

everywhere i look i see blackened nibs of eraser. crumpled up bundles of paper. the evidence of a house stumbling through finals.

no, wait, the finals aren’t yet.

that’s phase two of the torture.

but for now, for this one brief moment in time, we are here at the end of our rope. ooops, i mean, grind. the agony is, for the weekend at least, temporarily lifted.

and i’ve 48 hours to pull it together. to fill up the fridge. to soak in the tub. to indulge in the alka-seltzer fizz that comes with returning to normal.

okay, so it’s relative normal. (and might look to you, if you peer through the windows, just this side of hysterically nutty.)

take a deep breath, dears.

ah, yes.

what’s ahead of me now, as i sit here and practice the fine art of breathing, is a day of unscheduled calm. block after block in the appointment book left utterly blissfully blank. (who knew if we’d be screeching the car to the curb, as we delivered the paper, with seconds to spare? a trick i’ve perfected, learned back in the day when the name on the paper was mine.)

the task that’s upon me, you see, is to prop myself up like a couch pillow, one that’s been thumped with a fist.
i need here some restorative tricks. the emotional equivalent of a russian masseuse to bang on my door and order me down on the rug.

i’ll begin, i suppose, by sticking my nose in the lilacs.

my dear blessed mother, she left me a jar by the sink. she’d gotten a call from deep in my darkest hour. when i was nearly at wit’s end with this paper that would not get done, and the distress was starting to steam from the holes in my ears.

she did what mamas do: she listened, and hmmm’d, she attempted to soothe. then she went to her yard and snipped off the necks of an armload of lilac.

perhaps, like the nosegays of victorian times, the ones whose primary purpose was eclipsing the bodily odors, i ought to pin on a clump, somewhere up by my collar. perhaps a walking stalk of lilac would keep me from feeling so woozy.

and perhaps after that i’ll head out for some trowel therapy. that always works, to dig in the mud. and today, with the rain, it is muddy. the ooze might do me some good.

a tall mug of soup would be fine. one that’s laced with herbs from my garden. the chives at the moment are wholly in bloom, and carry a stiffening bite.

a trip to the farmer’s market is surely on the docket. as is a sacred shabbat after sundown, and a whole afternoon to prepare.

i am blessed, utterly, truly, to have at my reach a whole apothecary of emotional fixes and soothers of nerves.

i do believe that what’s ordered is a day of whispering quiet. i will tick through my thanks for getting at last to this day, one circled in red on my calendar.

and as i wrap my tired aching self in a blanket of vespers i will putter around, putting myself back together again.
so that when monday rolls around, i’ll be primed for the slam of phase two, the torture continues.

what are the fix-its that line the shelf of your emotional apothecary? what do you do to recover from an overdose of stress, and too many sleepless nights?