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Category: world weary

hope patrol

yellowboots

i’m just in from searching for hope. my boots are a bit muddy. my fingers are cold. and i’m not surprised to report there were no sightings of winter loosening its miserly grip.

sadly, in my corner of the world there is no snow. no drifts of white. no boughs laden with icy meringue. no fat flakes tumbling, tumbling from heaven to earth.

there is, more than anything, drab brown. not even rich brown. drab. drained-of-zing brown. which, perhaps, is apt description for my soul of late. which is why i was out searching.

thank heaven, the heavens responded last night: posted a nearly full moon, a fat moon, a bright moon, a moon that tonight will glow in all its glory. full snow moon. the moon that marks the arrival at sundown of a jewish holiday i’ve come to love. tu b’shevat it’s called, and it marks “the new year of the trees.” in israel, the holy land where all of these blessings begin, it’s the date on the calendar when vernal whisperings begin. when, if you pulled out your magnifying lens, and tiptoed close to the tips of the almond tree’s branches, you’d easily see the evidence: fat buds, fatter by the hour.

the trees are shaking off their slumber. the trees are stirring toward blossom, toward heavenly perfume, toward fruit. (the prescriptions for tu b’shevat i find wholly enchanting, a four-course feast of fruits and wine, so explained by the kabbalists, those deeply spiritual thinkers who believed that we elevate ourselves by the eating of certain fruits on tu b’shevat. if done with holy intention, they taught, sparks of light hidden in the fruit could be broken open from their shells, freed to float up to heaven, to the great divine, completing the circle of the renewal of life. oh my.)

it’s the eternal rhythm of earth and heavens. the inalterable equation of light from above, and richness from deep down inside the earth. it’s carried us forth, a pulsing pull, from the beginning of time. till now. and some winters — some winters inside our soul — we need surrender to the holy earth, to the rhythms that sustain us, move us forward even when we don’t believe we’ve the energy to lift a weary foot.

this winter would be one of those winters. all around the news is drab to worse. we’ve all been holed inside. and around here not even buffeted by snows, by the glory of an icy-painted window pane. we’re worn thin.

so mother earth comes to comfort us. she offers hope. even when we cannot see it.

back before the winter came, my last act of hope came the day i dropped to bent knee, thrust my shovel in the ground, and tucked in dozens and dozens of bulbs. i’d scanned the nursery shelves for blues and whites, the colors of delft, of old willow plates, the colors of sky and cloud. it’s a form of prayer, i’d insist, to tuck hope beneath the earth, to step away, and await the moment when the surge comes, when the tender determined shoot of newborn green comes poking through the earth. declares triumph. offers proof that hope pays off.

it’s too soon for that moment, as my morning’s patrol has made perfectly clear. but i find hope in other ways. i find hope seeping in through the cracks. do you?

i felt hope last night sitting in a circle of prayerful souls. i feel hope as i watch folks far braver and bolder than me pick up the reins and write the truth. i feel hope as all around i see the humblest among us stirred to action. i feel an awakening, even though it’s not yet the one from down beneath the crust of earth, where all the roots are emboldening, the roots we cannot see.

maybe it’s a blessing that we’re all paying attention, maybe it’s a very good thing that we’re being reminded that a democracy is a fragile thing, a living breathing entity that, like the rhythms of the earth and sky, must be carefully attended to. and we must all hold up our corner of its banner. we must all — by little and by little — find our courage, find our voice, think hard, think critically, employ deepest civility, listen with a gentle heart, and wield the purest acts of justice. and not let go — ever — of plain old kindness. the sort that seems to be rising up in some of the loveliest defiance i’ve ever seen.

come to think of it, that all sounds like hope to me. maybe, after all, it’s out there where the winds blow cold, blow certain. maybe my muddy boots led me to the very thing i’m hoping for.

are you sensing any signs of hope? any stories of pure kindness you’d care to share? the more we hear, the more emboldened we become, i do believe….

couple special intentions on this second friday in february. two dear friends of the chair suffered heart-shatterings this week: deepest prayers to pjt, who lost her dearest best friend far far too soon, and pjv, whose sister — last i heard — is on a ventilator and whose hold is fragile at this point. at my house, we are remembering my papa who died this day 36 years ago. i’ve heard from a few of my brothers this morning, who are all mourning his long absence from our every day. 

if you’re curious about tu b’shevat, i wrote about it here a few years back….

the days when we drop to our knees

days when we drop to our knees

dispatch from everywhere, as there are no geographical boundaries today. we are a world united in pain…

there is so little to say today. words escape what we hold in our hearts. if there is anything left in our hearts, anything other than oozing, breath-taking pain.

we ache today. throb.

throb, as we dare not glance at the screen. throb for the children. throb for the ones who love them. loved them.

lord, God, bless them, the ones who are gone now, the ones who watched, who heard, who lived an unimaginable hell.

lord, God, bless every last everyone torn by this terrible moment in time.

i had no notion that i would be writing these words today. i was riding the T this morning, or was it the brink of afternoon, when the first words shot across my pocket-sized screen. “school shooting in connecticut.” the numbers rose each time a new email dropped. 2, then 18, then 20, then 30.

i have flimsy grasp on the details, because i couldn’t bear to look. couldn’t bear to read a word. but i watched the president brush away tears. and that’s more than enough to begin to grasp.

i’ve spent the week with a brilliant three year old, and her brand-new just-unfolding baby brother, a soul-filling interlude that swept me away from the cares of the world, that kept me enchanted inside the glimmering veil of a world without horrors.

i can barely begin to fathom the five-year-olds in that kindergarten, the children’s garden gone ugly, gone utterly wrong.

on a day like today you abandon whatever it is you thought you needed to do.

you need do nothing but inhale the sacred all around you. you need do nothing but tell the ones you love how fiercely you love them.

and when they come home at the end of the day, or however you reach them, you tell your children in no uncertain words that they are your breath and your life, and you’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe, to shield them. and under your breath, inside your heart, you’ll know that you can’t.

you know that in 20 some bedrooms this morning, mothers or fathers were waking up children. were kissing their heads. were scrubbing their cheeks, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. were putting out breakfast. were trying to get them to hurry along, tie their shoes, change their orange-juice-stained shirt, remember their mittens. dropping them off at the curb. thinking they’d see them again. hear the chatter, again and again, from there in the back, from their car seats. these were children still strapped into car seats.

these were babies. not far from the womb.

the cries and the questions that rise from our hearts, they come without answers…

these are the days when, as much as you possibly can, you erase whatever was on the calendar.

once the cloak of night falls, you gather the ones you love in the tightest circle you can. you kindle lights. you steam up the kitchen windows, with whatever is hot, is delicious, is fumbling toward comfort.

you close your eyes and open your heart in unfiltered prayer.

you pray for this world. you pray for the children, the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters. the ones who are lost now, forever lost.

it’s all we can do.

there are no words. and whatever else we thought mattered, it really doesn’t. not at the end of this very long day.

dear God, bathe us in some shard of light, break through the shadow and fog of despair. deliver us from this evil.

this was not the dispatch i planned to write today, though the one i was going to write would have been called, “the days we don’t tell our children about.” which would have been eerily fitting. sad thing is, the children will know. the horror will seep out in this news-porous world, where headlines can’t be kept from young minds, and tender souls. much happened this week, but it will have to wait for another day. baby milo was born, and i beheld the miracle of watching his mama fall deeply in love all over again. i was there in portland when he arrived, was standing there at the door at just after midnight when my brother and becca waddled out, knowing he was coming. not knowing it would be in less than an hour.

and that’s not the only occasion of this week. the chair turned six on 12.12.12. i marked it by sending a love note to the beautiful boy who first built the chair and the table, who told me i could do it, and left me alone to try. i told him he’d brought me an infinite bundle of the best my life has given me. 

and none of that is what holds our attention as afternoon is shadowed by nightfall. i can’t quite come up with words on a day like today. so i’ll trust, as always, that here at the chair we are joined at heart and in words hurling toward heaven….

how will you hold the ones you love tonight? at our house, it’s shabbat, and the challah awaits. so too the menorah, where tonight all but one candle will burn. 

deep-breathing the beautiful

all around us, sometimes, the walls of the world seem to be crashing in. i read the pages of the newspaper, and soak up stories from faraway and not so far. stories of thugs and mobs and rapes and shootings at close range. i read of fathers who kick children with steel-toe boots, and dump lifeless toddler bodies in bags in the woods.

it gets to be deadening. to the spirit. to the soul. to the sparks of the hope that won’t be snuffed, not yet anyway.

and so, with a world whirling around, a world scaring me, making me wonder, i find myself clinging–like oxygen straight from a tube–to the wisps and the inkblots of God’s world that won’t be daunted, won’t be dulled, won’t be wiped away.

the great orange glowing orb of a moon that clung last night just over the skyscrapers along lake shore drive.

the clouds that skittered by, played peek-a-boo, made faces along with the moon.

the wisp of green, lime green, spring green, starting-all-over-again green, here on my kitchen table, branches clipped and brought in from the cold by my dear neighbor who must have known that by week’s end i’d need an infusion.

it is these scant stitches of beautiful, of infinite, that hold me in place, that keep me from sliding off into the pitch- black abyss of human nature gone haywire, and the aftershocks that do in souls like you and me.

there are readers and listeners, i suppose, who take in the day’s news and scurry along, undaunted, undented.

i am not one of them.

last night, riding home on the el, the clackety train that is chicago’s–and my–answer to swift public transit, i pored over the dispatch of nicholas kristof who found himself on the streets of bahrain, in the capital city of manama, and who wrote: “as a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. but it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate bahrain right now and watch as a critical american ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.”

he writes of seeing corpses with gunshot wounds, of a promising and prominent plastic surgeon who went out on the streets to tend to the wounded and wound up bloodied, unconscious, and nearly raped (the police pulled down his pants, threatened to rape him, before the idea was abandoned and an ambulance allowed to rescue him).

he writes of ambulance drivers pummeled, guns held to their heads. of hospital corridors full of frantic mothers searching desperately for children gone missing in the attacks.

i shuddered, sank low in my hard plastic seat on the el.

but then i glanced out the window, as the train emerged from its underground tunnel, began its rapid ascent to the tracks that run above street level. a bright orange something caught my eye. hyphenated by all the houses and towers the train passed by, i had to hold my gaze to catch that orb again and again.

it locked me. i couldn’t keep my eye from searching the sky. i wanted to tap the shoulder of the long-haired woman next to me, the one plugged in to her wired-in sounds. i wanted to say, “isn’t it beautiful?” but she wasn’t looking. wasn’t open for business. she was locked in her unnatural bubble.

at last i emerged from that train, stood for a good long while on the platform, waiting for the next of my trains. i didn’t mind.

the wind blew. played with the clouds, that played with the moon. while i stood watching, witness to the unending beauty, the light, the certainty that reigns in the sky.

that same moon, i thought, is the moon shining down on bahrain, on egypt, iraq and iran.

it’s the one constant. the one shared link i have at this moment with those souls on the streets, those frantic mothers searching for children.

and here on my table for the last two days, the serviceberry branches, laid on the counter when i wasn’t looking. now upright and sipping up waters, opening, unfurling, reminding: life comes again. the cycle begins, returns, life comes from death.

i find myself returning my eyes to the branches. i can’t get enough. i seem to need to remember, need evidence. i seem to need to deep-breathe the beautiful.

it’s the one thing bigger than us, even in the utter humility of its whispers, the moon in the nightsky, the branches unfurling weeks before their time, coaxed along by the warmth of my house, by the vase full of waters.

it is the beautiful that is eternal, ever here and always.

it is more breath-taking, perhaps, because we need to search for it, peek behind branches, poke through the woods.

once found, though, it sustains us. fills us. offers its grace to all of our emptiness, our shadow.

it is the hand, i am certain, of the Holiest.

it is offered for those of us who get light-headed from all of the darkness, who can’t read the stories and carry on as if all’s well with the world.

when it’s not.

thank God for the balm that comes with the gracenotes of beauty. for the whispers that remind: beauty won’t go away. it’s there, deep in the heart of all that pulses and breathes. and we can’t let the darkness take over…..
where did you find the beautiful this week?

shaky all around

the news seeping into my little world isn’t so swell these days. nothin’ at all to do with today being that unlucky friday. phooey, i say to that. that’s ol’ superstition. and superstitious i’m not. not so much, anyway.

i’m talking about the front page of the paper. and, lately, the business page, too. they’re the ones spelling out the downs and the more downs; whole columns of type, sprinkled with words like recession, inflation, and war that won’t end.

oh, and bosses at work being shown to the door. and other ones, new ones, saying they don’t like what we do. and we don’t do enough. and, oh, by the way, they’re cutting the pages, and the numbers of people paid to fill the ones left.

all sorts of talk, all day in the newsroom, about what’s going to happen, and who’s going to leave. anyone left, we all wonder, still reading the news? anyone left who loves turning a page, not knowing just where your fancy might land, soaking up something wholly brand new you might never have known? getting grabbed by a photo, or maybe a headline. seeing a byline, sinking into the words of a friend you’ve not ever met but feel that you’ve known for ever and ever.

it’s all very shaky. and it’s not only newspapers.

here in the village where i now mostly walk, or pedal my bike, to save the gas in my tank, i see houses for sale. hear stories of folks needing to move.

i know my dear friend the breadman isn’t baking so much. because no one is buying quite so much anymore. and cash registers, all over town, seem to be rigged with an odd little button that makes all of the totals twice what they were.

even at home, there are reasons to worry. the tall one is stiff, with a pain in his back. and all of us grownups, on pins and on needles.

so what do i do when it’s shaky all over, when the world at my door gets blurry and buzzes and is all out of sorts?

i crank up the dial on the parts of my life that matter the most.

i pay attention to what i’m cooking for dinner. i set the table with just a little more care. i cut more and more peonies from out in the garden. i tuck them there by the bedside, even in rooms strewn with little boy’s clothes.

i walk to the library. i sit with my sweet little starting-out reader. we pluck books, chapter books now, from shelf after shelf, whole piles too heavy for one of us only. we take turns with each chapter. we take turns with the book bag. sometimes, each one of us takes one of the handles. we lug it together.

i buy pie for no reason. i promise to learn to make my own crust. i snip herbs from the garden, snip with abandon. it’s summertime now and i needn’t be stingy.

i work in the garden. i pull weeds and more weeds. i stand back and admire the one-inch-by-one-inch that‘s finally weedless.

i sit on the stoop. i let ice melt on my tongue. we stuff chocolate-chip cones with mint-chocolate ice cream. then, for no reason, really, except for the joy of redundance, we sprinkle jimmies on top, those bit-lets of bite-able sugar. then we try not to bite, but only to lick. not once have we made it, not once without biting. these are the games that we play when we play for no reason, ’cept for the pure joy of playing at play.

as the world around me feels all very shaky, i sink deeper and deeper into what i love most, on a scale that gets smaller and closer to home, closer to heart.

it’s almost, you might want to think, like whistling in the dark. only that’s not what it is if you look from the soul side. it’s whistling, all right, but with very deep roots.

it’s the whistling of grownups old enough and wise enough, and humble enough, to know that the whole of the world we most likely can’t change.

but we can keep the ones that we love from feeling the bumps and the worries, from noticing that all around the edge of this boat, the waters are sloshing, are getting quite queazy.

we can make this place we call home a fine and true respite. the place we come back to, because it soothes us and calms us. because in a thousand small ways, we can dust off the dirt, and polish the places that just might maybe shine.

we might not steal headlines. we might not cinch deals. we might not be brokers of peace ’round the globe.

but what we do with our days, and our hours and minutes, just might make the difference in just a few blessed lives.

and those lives, some of them, were handed to us, for just a short time, really and truly.

someone wiser and truer than i’ll ever be, someone infinite, someone you maybe call God whispered once upon a time, spoke to each of our hearts. said, this is my beloved, and this is yours, too. i’ve breathed in a life, i’ve sculpted with love. it’s your job, should you so choose, to cradle, to take by the hand, to teach the words and the poems and the stories. to tuck into bed with a prayer, to draw tight the sheets. to kiss sweet blessed heads, and send dreams off to dreamland.

give the gift of your calm. give the gift of your grace. give laughter. give whimsy. give ice cream with sprinkles.
make each hour count.

make it be simple. make it be rich.

and then that Someone reached out and gave us our loves.

a wise friend of mine tallied the world as some of our children have lived it: 9/11, afghanistan, iraq, columbine. then there’s tsunami, new orleans under water, virginia tech, and gas at 4-plus-bucks-a-gallon. and, sure as heck, i’m leaving out a thing or two that’s kept you awake.

now, in grade school and high school, even in pre-school, they practice drills year after year, in case of intruders. our cold-war atomic-bomb scares replaced with very real fears that a classmate, or passing-by kook, could burst through the door, carrying guns.

some nights, as i lie in my bed, whispering prayers, and begging for mercy, i ask for a cloak of untattered peace to fall on my house.

and then i wake up, and give it the whole of my heart: i crank up the oven, i tuck in a pan of cinnamon rolls. i wait for the sound of the feet that i know. the big ones and little ones. even the cat’s.

and i do what i think i do best: with all of my might, i aim to sew even though i can’t thread a needle (not anymore anyway, not without my old-lady glasses). i stitch this old house with gracenotes of beauty, and fumble for even a loose knot of calm. i pay attention to nooks and to crannies no one might notice. i iron out wrinkles. i wring out the worries.

it’s called housework. and mine is of and for the soul.

i owe it, i do. to the ones whose everyday stories are being inscribed at my old kitchen table.

and besides, long long ago, i promised: dear God, bless me with life, and i’ll make it most noble.

how do you make your world a little bit calmer, a little bit richer, when all around it feels like the walls are starting to crumble?