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all will be well….


written on an itty-bitty screen…

i whispered the words over and over, linguistic rosary beads, carrying me, i hoped, to the land of calm. 

all will be well….

the moving truck was three days late getting here, with a good dozen phone inquiries left unanswered. day after day, promises crumbled, as we did our best to wait it out in the empty law school apartment, stitching in walks and slices of new haven pizza. 

finally, wednesday morning, we caught sight of the squat little van veering for the curb out front. we waved, as if greeting a long-lost cousin who’d just crossed the seas. 

and then the driver loped out from the cab, a man on a mission we didn’t yet understand.

“who’s in charge here?” he barked. i pointed to my firstborn, the kid whose worldly belongings were stashed inside that moving vault. or so we hoped.

“your bed’s cracked in half, and your desk, too,” he informed. 

we stood motionless, taking it in. these sorts of words seem to take the slow road to absorption, words you’d never expected.

somewhere deep inside i thought, “well, at least they’re here,” seeing as i had visions of that vault of worldly possessions taking a jaunt aimlessly around the globe. in perpetuity.

then they started to unload. first off: book cases. or rather the remains thereof. shards of bookcase, more like it. 

then the antique floor lamp. its black metal post with the golden finial, snapped off, never to be seen again.

dear moving man assured us it was all that way when he’d picked up the load not too far away, earlier that morning. bad packing, he explained. really bad packing. seems whoever packed the load defied all laws of physics. maybe it was a science experiment. in case the packer is out there somewhere, here’s what he should write in his lab report: it didn’t work. heavy objects crush lighter ones every time….

as if all that wasn’t quite enough, last night we got the introductory tour of the yale-new haven medical center ER when we ambled over with a soon-to-be legal scholar who, after trying to move a coffee table out of the movers’ way, found himself unable to walk. or sit. or roll.

he’s home now, sleeping right beside the spot on the floor where i’m curled up tapping on a screen. we raced to the five-minutes-away IKEA and scooped up a replacement desk and two bookshelves (silver lining, the bed turned out not to be cracked in half, so that stoppage of my heart was in vain. hallelujah).

so, all in all, all will be well. 

soon as i ditch the fever that’s been haunting me all week….

hoping your week has been infinitely more glorious. and so grateful that today i’ll be sliding hundreds of books onto shelves….

what are the words you whisper when you discover yourself wedged in a tight spot?

photo above: view out the apartment window at dawn, as I whispered my morning’s meditation….

fatherprayer

in which we turn our attention to mothering’s essential compatriot…

it’s become something of a ribbing in this old house. the one who sits across the table from me most nights at dinner, he delights in jiving that he too will pen a deeply intimate account of his side of the domestic story, and he will title it fatherprayer: (subtitle not yet revealed).

it’s a play, of course, on the title of the deeply intimate account of navigating the undulations of mothering that i wrote. the one called motherprayer: lessons in loving. for months now, especially when one lovely reviewer wrote that he barely hovered at the margins (because we have an unspoken pact that i won’t spill ink on his private realm), he’s been itching to tell his version of the tales, my architectural maven whose natural landscape — in the writerly realm — is to size up towers tall or squat, to write with unswerving authority about the public square, whereas my realm is the quieter, tucked-away terrain, the one that unfolds on bed pillows and beside the old cookstove.

while i will leave unpenned his rendition of the homefront (should he ever decide to traipse into the personal), i will encroach only far enough here this morning to offer my own version of a tribute to his indispensable fathering of our two beloved boys — and to consider the role of these men in the care and feeding of our children.

i’m blessed — beyond words — that the father of my children has stuck around all these years. i don’t take that for granted, not when i know and love women for whom that hasn’t happened, through no commission of their own. i watch friends i love shoulder every blessed dilemma and decision, from the kid at college with debilitating strep, to how to scrounge to pay the monthly rent.

the truth is, around here, we both came from houses where forever meant forever. so the occasional rough patch was met not with searching for nearest exit, but knowing we’d stay at it till we found our common ground. i’d be a fool — or big fat liar — if i pretended we’d not hit such skids along the way. it’s been nearly 26 years, after all, and we’re human, and somewhere along the way — in a world where work and home are tenuously balanced at best — there’s bound to be the chapter where one feels pushed aside, while the other shakes his head. or one parent’s idea about the wisest way to steer a kid is pretty much foreign to the other.

but this is not an ode to long-lived marriage (though that’s fertile ground that some day i could be convinced to take on…), so i’ll leave that there, and move on to fathering, and the miracles i’ve witnessed from front row.

the first clue i ever had that the man i married would be quite fine in the fathering department was, i suppose, when i met his own father — the dearest man, a gentle man, a man who could — and did — sit for hours at the Shabbat table (always positioned near the challah, or braided bread, which he’d tear off in little nibbles to punctuate his stories) telling tales, absorbing long answers to well-placed questions. he was a journalist, after all, an editor, and he was fluent in the art of asking and answering questions. the famous tale about my husband’s father is that in the raw first days after he sent his first-born and only son off to college, he was so distraught he whiled away the hours hosing out the garbage cans for days on end, in hopes of keeping his mind off how much he missed the kid. and he sat down and penned a letter — ink on paper — every single day, straight through to thanksgiving of his son’s freshman year, when the kid pulled his father aside, and whispered that maybe he could stop now, the kids in the dorm had caught on to the daily paternal letter-writing. and it was getting a little, um, embarrassing.

the second clue came not too many weeks before our firstborn was born, when, one night before sleep, the father of said child said, out of nowhere, “you’re not gonna recognize me; i’m going to turn to mush.”

and so he did. he cradled that baby as if the whole of the universe rested in his arms, as if one wrong move might crack off a limb or send the little bundle spilling to the floor. every night, when we’d stroll to the el station to greet him after the long day he’d been away, you’d have thought he was welcoming the president of france (or frank lloyd wright, more fittingly) to his company. the poor kid would be smothered in kisses, and questions — even at two-months-old.

if you asked our boys to tick off the top three words that come to mind, they might reel off these: cautious. devoted. old-fashioned in the dearest way.

i might say the same — after all, we’ve all been keeping watch on the very same subject, all three of us from particular vantage points.

i know there are papas aplenty devoted to their children, but in this house, before my very eyes, i’ve watched that word take on layers and layers of truth the likes of which i’d never before witnessed. yes, he’s unswerving when it comes to a few fine truths — no driving on the highway till you’ve proven mastery of side streets and stop signs; no taking cabs home from the airport (at any hour of the day or night) when your papa can just as certainly be waiting for you at the baggage claim — but the core of all of that is how deeply seriously he takes his job as being No. 1 protector of his boys, and all of those he loves.

if my boys have a moral core — oh, they do! — it comes in large measure from their papa, who lives by a code indelibly inscribed, one weighed in the pages of ancient text, one from which there is no dilution. we’ve all witnessed him going to the mat for a principle he believes in (note: see trump v. kamin, a battle spelled out in too-tall, too-showy alphabet letters). but, here in the confines of home sweet home, i’ve watched him insist it’s no big deal to drive 15 hours to watch three minutes of a crew race because no kid should be without cheering squad, even in the B boat of a novice squad for a race they didn’t win. i’ve seen him take a train to a cab to a far-flung soccer field — in a snowstorm, mind you — abiding by the very same 90-percent-of-life-is-showing-up principle.

because he’s a fellow with a predilection for holey T-shirts and shorts a size too big, we rib him fairly endlessly (in part because we take seriously our job to keeper our prize-winner duly humble; but too because he is such a darn good sport, and the basso-profundo of his belly laugh could warm the coldest bone in this old house).

but here’s the undying truth: we know deeply and certainly that he’s a prize beyond all measure. and we’ve two boys who’ve grown up — and grow still — knowing their papa would be there for them upside, downside, no matter what life throws at them. he’s their first and last defense. and no one, nor anything, could get between those boys and the ever-faithful heart of the papa who loves them endlessly and without measure.

happy blessed father’s day, to all who’ve been so blessed.

xoxoxo

what lessons in loving did you learn from your papa? 

empty room, full heart

IMG_8150

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…..