pull up a chair

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

a peek at this little book i’ve been making for the last couple years…

there is a choreography to birthing a book, an unseen one, one that’s becoming familiar to me, a familiarity so far beyond the dreams i cast out my long-ago childhood window, into the leaves of the oaks that arbored and harbored me, onto the heavens far, far beyond. 

first, you feel an idea wriggling around deep in your soul, then it rises up to your brain, and the only way to scratch the itch is to begin to breathe possibility into it. what if? you percolate that inkling for a while, front burner to back to front again. and then you begin to read, to see if sinew comes to the bones. and, if you find that the deeper you read, the more curious you become, then you know you’re onto something worth chasing. 

i chased the idea that all of creation––the cadenza of birdsong, the golden slant of the setting sun, the comfort of even the chirring cicadas in the waning weeks of summer––held the pulse of the sacred. all of it was of the God i’ve long held close to my heart, the God daring to brush up against us, to draw us into the dance, to unfurl timeless truths in an alphabet of moonbeam and monarch, the veeing of geese or the hard crack of lightning scything the sky. 

i’d long known that when i step into the dawn or the woods, plant my bum on a log by the lakeshore or the rickety rock in my own back plot, i’m keen to a sense that an ineffable presence is there, right there, with something to teach, to offer, to whisper. but until i knew of this so-named Book of Nature, an ancient theology rooted in the notion that long before there were words, God spoke through the murmurings, the convulsions, and the unfurlings of the natural world, i hadn’t sensed it so perceptibly. hadn’t realized there were millennia of thinkers who’d been reading that book.

it’s imperative, and more urgent than ever, that as this great holy earth is pummeled and poisoned and burned, we realize that maybe what’s most at stake is a tie to the sacred. 

for the better part of eight or nine months, i read everything under the sun––poets and prophets, mystics and saints, believers and non-believers, all of whom had something to say on the subject of all creation, its wonders, its heartbreaks, and lately its cavernous losses. i combed my readings for notes upon notes. then, equipped with voluminous cross-referenced pages, i started to write. within a couple months, i’d written some 200 pages. and then i waited a very long time. 

but now, those pages edited and copy edited, typeset and proofed, the cover designed and posted online in most of those places where booksellers peddle these days (it had been on amazon, and now–except for U.K. amazon––it seems gone! but now it’s back––like magic!), i’m at the part of the book-birthing dance where you pull back the cover on the book’s actual cover so the ones to whom you most emphatically write can be the first to officially peek. 

so, here’s the cover. (you are, i hope you know, all the ones to whom i most emphatically write, the ones who faithfully wander by and pull up a chair whene’er the spirit so moves you….)

the pages inside, 204 of them, will have to wait to be read till the next vernal equinox, the day the book is “official,” marked with its very own pub date––March 21, 2023––and whirling into the world. 

of all the books i’ve written, this is the one that counts as the most intensive. it started from scratch (unlike the others, all collections of essays), and came in layers and layers. 

i had a brilliant editor, lauren winner, an american historian, scholar of religion, professor at duke divinity school, episcopal priest, formerly an orthodox jew, an endlessly curious mind, a voracious reader, and a best-selling author on multiple spiritual subjects––Mudhouse Sabbath, her journey from orthodox judaism to anglican priest, Wearing God, the many metaphors for God found in the bible (these are but two of her many published words)––who now teaches the craft and art of spiritual writing at workshops, universities, and seminars from coast to coast. i can and will attest to her brilliance, to the way she evoked from me layers i hadn’t known were there, the way she lifted the prose off the page, insisted i weave in an airiness that might make a critical difference. 

there’s a whole team behind the making of the book, though only one of us gets our name on the cover. there’s a meticulous and exceedingly kind copy editor, there’s a cover designer and another designer for the interior pages (this book is a beauty inside). there’s a production editor, and a typesetter and a page proofer. and there’s the editor who believed in the idea in the first place, and nurtured it along. i am forever indebted to each one of them. and there will soon be a team whose job is to do what’s hardest for me: peddle the darn thing, get it onto and off of bookshelves. in bookshops and libraries. and into the hands and the nooks of readers. 

there is an essential and indispensable triangle in the world of letters: the writer, the idea, and the reader. it’s a conversation unspoken. a conversation in pages. and without the reader, the writer is whispering into an abyss. and the only sound is the author’s own echo. 

so this is the book. and if you ever choose to pluck it off a shelf, you will find my whispered whole truths deep inside. 

if writers write to say this is what i believe, this is where i find the beautiful and the sacred, and maybe i can show you just where i’m seeing and sensing, maybe just maybe one little writer can filter onto the world just one little mote of starlight or sunlight or moonlight where before there had only been the murkiest shadow. 

The Book of Nature is my one mote of filtering light. 

you can find it on Broadleaf Books here.

you can find it on amazon here.

and, very excitingly, you can find it on the indie booksellers’s bookshop.org

here’s how my publisher, Broadleaf Books, is describing the book:

We live inside a nautilus of prayer—if only we open our senses and perceive what is infused all around. 

Throughout millennia and across the monotheistic religions, the natural was often revered as a sacred text. By the Middle Ages, this text was given a name, “The Book of Nature,” the first, best entry point for encounter with the divine. The very act of “reading” the world, of focusing our attention on each twinkling star and unfurling blossom, humbles us and draws us into sacred encounter.

As we grapple to make sense of today’s tumultuous world, one where nature is at once a damaged and damaging source of disaster, as well as a place of refuge and retreat, we are called again to examine how generously it awaits our attention and devotion, standing ready to be read by all.

Weaving together the astonishments of science; the profound wisdom and literary gems of thinkers, poets, and observers who have come before us; and her own spiritual practice and gentle observation, Barbara Mahany reintroduces us to The Book of Nature, an experiential framework of the divine. God’s first revelation came to us through an ongoing creation, one that—through stillness and attentiveness to the rumblings of the heavens, the seasonal eruptions of earth, the invisible pull of migration, of tide, and of celestial shiftings—draws us into sacred encounter. We needn’t look farther for the divine.

and that, dear friends, is the news of the week. be careful out there, this latest covid bugger (BA5) seems more determined than ever to muscle its way in. i’m going back into semi-hiding given that i am still dizzy from my first covid round….

what’s stirring you this week?

Little Babs, long before she dreamed of a book cover

hometown horror

highland park, illinois, a town at half-mast: photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

because i am very much still under the avalanche of proofing pages, and still absorbing the granular stories of the mass horror in highland park, the little town where i grew up (it was the next town over, but it was always way more hip and happening than my sleepy little deerfield where the candy counter in the corner drug store was about the biggest action in town), i am keeping it short here today. i’d wanted to share the cover of my new little book, but that will wait, as i feel no impulse toward turning that page.

i don’t know if i can find words yet for sitting in front of a tv, watching a landscape you’d know with your eyes closed, be rattled with war-grade acoustics, the sound of an assault weapon ringing in the canyon of shops where i bought my first communion dress, where we always went for the buttercream roses on birthday cakes, where Fell Shoes was the place to go for capezio’s, the ballet-like flats i once got in the color of a soft summer sky. 

highland park was where my dad died, and where my littlest brother was born. highland park was where we raced when any one of us fell from a roof (two of us did), our bones broken in bits. highland park was where i went every saturday morning, all through high school, in my red-striped jumper that made me “a candystriper” (a volunteer helper of nurses). and highland park hospital’s emergency room was where the trauma teams raced on the fourth to tend to the grievously wounded, seven of whom have died. i’ve walked those halls, sat in those hard plastic chairs, for nearly every trauma in my growing-up family. 

photo by Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

i now know that you only hear the finest-grain stories, the ones that might never be washed from the wounds, in the hours and days after the news trucks turn out their lights and lumber away. i know that you hear from your across-the-street neighbor about the someone who died right before her friend’s eyes. i know you hear about the sixth-grade teacher of the shooter, who worked all year to get him some help, as she could see then how troubled he was. i know you hear about the four little kids now sleeping in bed with their mama and papa, too afraid to be alone when the lights go out. and how one of those four is literally shaking, a tremor of fear so deep it hasn’t yet gone away.

i now know that the headlines barely brush up against the whole of the horrors, and the horrors play out in terms so deeply human, so shatteringly broken, you know the pieces will never get put together again. 

so how must it feel to live in a place where gunshots ring out all the time, and news trucks never come, and no one even thinks to gather up the stories of the echoes of fear, of brokenness? 

and why aren’t we stopping this madness? why are AK-47s, those very numbers tattooed on the face of the shooter, seen as the farthest thing from the mind of the revolutionary farmers and statesmen who set about to author a nation of freedom, a place where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness seemed to be a central proposition? 

there is no happiness in the little town where i grew up. and the freedom to walk without fear––it’s the latest extinction in a land swiftly losing its grip.

if you’ve thoughts or something you need to exhale, exhale here. otherwise, know we’re encircled in the silence of shared communion. see you next week.

make room for joy. always make room.

from what i know, from what i hear, and from what i gather, there’s a miasma of gloom hovering over the landscape, not unlike an early morning fog that forgets to scuttle away once the sun burns down. 

it’s a despair in general and in particular. it’s a despair that has long been casting its shadow, as we seem to be dwelling in an epoch of upheavals. from a rage that’s spilled even into the lanes of the little village where i live (did i really deserve a middle finger for driving exactly the speed limit on a curvy hill?) to venom poured onto airwaves and social media feeds (excuse me for backing away from all but a quick scroll for news), it’s gotten harsh out there. and institutions we counted on seem to be pulling out the rug.  

but i read something this week that reinforced what’s become my saving grace, though reading it helped me to see more clearly that i needn’t feel guilty for reaching toward my apothecarial shelf of simplest balms. i’ve been making a practice of stitching the tiniest joys into my day, and pausing long enough and deeply enough to let them sink deep down into the crevices, the nooks and crannies and channels of the soul where the life spark burns. 

i might pause in my dashing down the walk to listen to the gurgle of my bubbling fountain. i might plop in a wicker chair to watch the slanting sunlight turn golden a flapping hydrangea leaf. i might catch mama wren ferrying a worm to her chirpy little ones. they’re the littlest wisps of joy, the things that percolate my heart and soul and each and every summer’s day.

what i read this week were wisdoms from mary pipher, an american clinical psychologist, long rooted in lincoln, nebraska (which in my book certifies her down-to-earth wisdoms as deep as the roots of the prairie dropseed that rolls across the miles). pipher, whose wisdoms are too boundless to be bottled, is best known for reviving ophelia: saving the selves of adolescent girls, her 1994 rescue guide for an america she calls a “girl-destroying place,” and more recently she’s written women rowing north, a book on aging gracefully. (note to self: please read.)

this week, though, she wrote an op-ed for the new york times, in which, after outlining the simple joys with which she unfurls her day––a morning cup of coffee, watching the sun rise over a lake, listening to the sounds of sparrows, the commonest of common birds––she writes that she is “leading a double life.”

Underneath my ordinary good life, I am in despair for the world. Some days, the news is such that I need all my inner strength to avoid exhaustion, anxiety and depression. I rarely discuss this despair. My friends don’t either. We all feel the same. We don’t know what to say that is positive. So, we keep our conversations to our gardens, our families, books and movies and our work on local projects. We don’t want to make one another feel hopeless and helpless.

Many of us feel we are walking through sludge. This strange inertia comes from the continuing pandemic, a world at war and the mass shootings of shoppers, worshipers and schoolchildren. In addition, our country and our planet are rapidly changing in ways that are profoundly disturbing. We live in a time of groundlessness when we can reasonably predict no further than dinnertime. The pandemic was a crash course in that lesson.

As we are pummeled with daily traumatic information, more and more of us shut down emotionally. I can hear the flatness in the newscasters’ voices, see the stress in my friends’ faces and sense it in the tension of the workers at my sister’s nursing home. We are not apathetic; we are overwhelmed. Our symptoms resemble those of combat fatigue.

Mary Pipher

she goes on to write that in an age where ukraine and afghanistan and yemen are everyday news, and the horrors therein threaten to numb us, where the american political landscape some days resembles an extreme-wrestling match, nothing short of world-class coping skills are called for. and thus she lists three of her wellsprings: her grandmother who raised five children on a ranch during the dust bowl and the great depression; thich nhat hahn, the buddhist monk and zen master; and her years-long study of psychology. 

her wisdoms are these: her grandmother urged her to “be the person you want to live with every day of your life,” and on the last day of her life she told mary that her life goal had been “to leave the world a better place;” from thich nhat hahn, who’d witnessed great suffering in vietnam, she not only absorbed his practices of mindfulness, anchoring herself in the present moment, but also his deepest teaching about our interconnectedness with all of life, a worldview that finds healing through reaching out to the frightened, the hungry, the ravaged in all its forms; and, from psychology, pipher learned that the best way to cope with suffering is to face it, feel it in our bones, explore it, extract its meaning, and then muster the resources to move forward. here she prescribes: “find ways to balance our despair with joy.”

maybe take a minute to let each one of those soak in. . . 

“be the person you want to live with. . .”

“present moment. beautiful moment. . .”

“action is an antidote to despair. . .”

Most of us cannot be great heroes. However, we all have the capacity to be ordinary heroes.

to be an ordinary hero is to find someone close to home who’s hurting, and be the healing balm. resist the urge to flip back someone else’s insolence. even on a day when you might prefer pure silence, invite in someone whose days are defined by loneliness. make your front stoop or your back porch a place where the welcome sign is often posted. 

go about the business of gathering up simple joys; know that they’re the fuel to carry you across the long and lonely miles. revel in the red bird who alights just beyond your window sill, and serenades the coming darkness. follow a butterfly across your garden. watch the night stars turn on. keep an eye out for the fireflies’ first flickering. 

make room for joy. joy is a necessary oxygen for both soul and psyche. without it, we shrivel, furl inward, gasp for breath amid the not-unlimited allotment of days we have here. 

those joys needn’t be grand, needn’t strike up any band. we’re on the hunt here for simple joys, barely detectable threads of joy; weave them through your day.

they just might embolden you for the long haul, the long and seemingly unbearable haul. 

where will you find joy today? how will you make room?

i just yesterday got page proofs for my next book, The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text (pub date: march 21, 2023), and that means i will be underwater for the next two weeks making sure there are no runaway commas, or words wrongly landed amid a sentence. it’s nerve-wracking and eye-straining, but it moves me closer to the finish line. i might not get a chance to circle back to reply to comments for awhile, but sooner or later, i promise i will. and soon as i can i’ll show you how pretty someone made the pages of my little book. till then, take care, and take joy, as tasha tudor always insisted…

photo above by will kamin.

p.s. here’s a little joy that slipped under the transom yesterday, when my beloved brother brian found my little book available for pre-order in — get this!!! — park slope and switzerland. excuse me while i gulp. (the actual cover, which i’ve not yet been told i can share, is peeking out from under the pre-order banner on the community bookstore, now a shop added to my must-visit list. xoxoxo thank you little bookstores, online and real-world.)

lite summer fare

instructions for a summery day: kick off your shoes, wiggle your toes; tiptoe through dewy grass in the quiet hours when all the birds are deep in morning song; find an old wicker chair; plant your bum.

more instructions: have fat mug nearby filled with whatever fuels you; look out upon this blessed sun-drenched day. whisper thank you, thank you, thank you. keep whispering.

before you wander off into this holy day, a sermon in verse from that high priestess of poetry, mary oliver.

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(West Wind)

amen. now, go in peace….*

*there is a breathtakingly beautiful dismissal i’ve heard at the end of mass, but i cannot for the life of me find it here this morning, so when i do i will tiptoe back and leave it here…..my dear friend connie, who was sitting beside me the morning i heard it, and immediately unzipped my backpack to reach for a pen to scribble it down so i’d never forget it, she’ll help me find it. i know she will. because she finds answers for everything.

and here it is (thank you beloved connie and Kat!!!):

Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel

what will you do to make this fine summer’s day the magnificent gift that it is?

p.s. there are a thousand summer birthdays to celebrate in june, and one someone i love — a blessed friend of this old chair — is birthdaying on the 28th. happy blessed day my beautiful hilarious and ever wise friend. xoxoxox

p.s.s. here’s a little before and after picture show: my book-bestrewn office got a little makeover yesterday, when our beloved james the dream-builder showed up with a bespoke bookcase that houses not only the antique clock we inherited from fair haven, new jersey, but also all my poetry books and all my religion books, thus freeing the floor of its book-holding duties. here’s a little before, after, and a pic of james’ glorious solution.

thank you, james!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! we love you to pieces. xoxox

bittersweet

bittersweet: the autumnal flame in the woods

in which we commence a summer’s reading…(there’s a stack of books on my desk, with titles from a british children’s classic, the little grey men, by someone named “b.b”., to the poems of jane kenyon, to a pair of books that mine the intersection of psyche and soul. i begin, curiously, there…)

what caught my eye was this:

bittersweet”: a tendency to states of longing, poignancy and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. the bittersweet is also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death––bitter and sweet––are forever paired. “days of honey, days of onion,” as an arabic proverb puts it. . . .to fully inhabit these dualities––the dark as well as the light––is, paradoxically, the only way to transcend them. and transcending them is the ultimate point. the bittersweet is about the desire for communion, the wish to go home.

it’s a passage from a book titled, bittersweet: how sorrow and longing make us whole, and it’s by a writer i’ve never before read. her name is susan cain, a lawyer-turned-author, who, in 2012, wrote a best-seller titled quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. susan cain seems to be sliding my deepest truest traits under her magnifying lens. i likely never would have bumped into her, except that her work caught the eye of maria popova, the cultural critic and genius behind the marginalian, a weekly e-compendium of esoterica and wonder, whose work always catches my eye. 

bittersweet.

i’ve never put that name to how i am in the world. bittersweet: it’s a beautiful name, the name of an autumnal berry, persimmon in color, that has appeared to me on a trail up ahead as if the woods were aflame. but i’ve not pinned it to a way of being, of seeing, of sensing. and yet it fits as if it’s the long-missing piece to the jigsaw that is me. 

i might define or describe it as living with a profound antenna to the pains––and the beauties––in the world, and longing to heal or to salve or to simply be present. fully present. because you realize the beautiful is out there, is possible, and you think that if you reach far enough, work hard enough, imagine the whole of it, you just might bring it to life, the beautiful you believe in. 

and when, for one reason or another, you can’t, it can be crushing. 

the first time i got a sense that i might be wired in what i might now recognize as a bittersweet way was all the way back in first grade when mrs. leslie, my unforgettable teacher with the “eyes in the back of her head” (so she told us), called me to her desk just before lunchtime one day, and asked me to stay in from recess, along with david pugliese, a classmate who, it turned out, had a brain tumor, back when brain tumors in children had no possible cure. so david and i stayed in the classroom while everyone else ran out to play. for 59 years now, i’ve thought of david pugliese and how very unfair it was that he had to have a tumor in his beautiful, soft-spoken brain. i remember quietly playing games in that quiet classroom while the shrieks and the shouts from the playground seeped in from the underside of the door, day after day for as long as david was there. every time i think of david, my heart hurts. all these decades later.

bittersweet: perceiving pains and longing to fix them. because you believe in the beautiful, the sacred, the whole. 

it’s not the same as being shadow-souled, which is another name for depressed. though the bittersweet among us can feel the weight of too many worries. and we can be accused of being depressed. our hours of silence might easily be mistaken for something other than turning deep into our worries about the world, or someones we love, or someones we just barely know. sometimes we slip so deeply into the heartache of someone else’s agonies we can’t escape the weight of it. 

i’ve long known that deep sorrows pulse through me. a short list of bittersweet clues might be these (cain’s book has a checklist for gauging your level of bittersweetness): i know i love a foggy day, and the mournful cry of the geese veeing across the sky. i know the interplay of shadow against sunlight is where my eye always falls; it’s textural, it’s nuanced, it draws my deepest attention.

maybe yours too.

(cain diagnosed me [and you, if you sense a shared sensibility here]: “a true connoisseur of the places where light and dark meet.”)

i am equally awake to what’s beautiful, what’s tender, sometimes piercingly so. it’s a perpetual tug down there in my heart and my soul, where sometimes the rope starts to fray.

i’ve been told since i was little that i should remember to see the glass as half-full, celebrate sunshine, sing to the rain clouds to make them go away. i remember the quiz i once found in the pages of a newspaper, and how i filled in the answers and found out, according to the quizlet, i ranked among those with “low-grade depression.” i remember once writing (here on the chair) about how, in the discordant minor-key wail of a lone goose’s night cry, i heard the echo of my own unbound sorrow in the days and weeks after my firstborn went off to college, and i remember how someone i loved called to scold me after reading my words, to tell me that i should feel blessed, not on the precipice of perpetual tears. and, by the way, he added, i might want to check in with a therapist. 

and, yes, keeping close watch on the news of the world, and where the world shatters, i feel my heart shattering too. i’ve long known that empathy is a double-edged gift, and one that i’d never surrender. i know that it hurts––sometimes unbearably so––to slip into the shoes or the soul of someone who’s aching, who’s broken, or limping, or shattered. i know i sometimes wear it too heavily, and that it pushes me into long hours of quiet.

but i’ve never fully considered how that pierced sense of the heart might also be the very pulse beat that propels the push toward the good, toward that which heals, toward that which reaches for communion of the empathetic kind. i’ve never before seen it against a truth found in this line from middlemarch, george eliot’s epic 19th-century novel:

“…by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.”

“widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.” now there’s an assignment.

nor have i ever framed it in the way of Gregory the Great, the bishop of rome in the late-sixth and early-seventh century, who spoke about “compunctio, the holy pain, the grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful,” as described by Owe Wikström, a swedish professor of the psychology of religion. “the bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and at the same time, a desire for, perfection. this inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty. there, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”

“between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed…”

this world we’re yearning for, cain writes, is present in all world religions: in the judeo-christian realm, it’s the Garden of Eden or the Kingdom of Heaven; sufis call it the Beloved of the Soul. c. s. lewis called it “the place where all the beauty came from.”

buddhists teach that we might aim “to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.” 

just the other day, at a celebration of 20 years of OnBeing, krista tippett closed the proceedings with a call for joy-seeking even in this broken world. imperative joy, i immediately coined it. not mamby-pamby cheery whistling-in-the-dark, but honestly, authentically (to borrow the word from contemporary psychobabble), set out to plot a map of barely noticeable, utterly quixotic joys each and every day. (that’s a thought hole to burrow in some other day, though it wouldn’t hurt––especially now––to begin to seek joy in this epoch of considerable shadow.)

an old hasidic tale, one cain tells in her book, has it that a rabbi noticed an old man in his congregation seemed indifferent to any talk of the divine. so the rabbi hummed a poignant melody, a song of yearning. “now i understand what you wish to teach,” said the old man. “i feel an intense longing to be united with the Lord.” it’s in the minor-key chords, the song of the heart crying, that some of us hear most perceptibly.

naomi shihab nye once wrote: “before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” 

maybe that’s the beautiful secret of the bittersweet, a condition, a way of being i am only just beginning to deeply consider, after a lifetime of intensely feeling the sorrows that swirl ever and always. and just as intensely believing the beautiful is shimmering somewhere within our holiest reach.

it’s the start of my summer’s reading, and it seems a choice place to begin….

what’s on your summer reading list? or your bittersweet thoughts?

victorian engraving of bittersweet and wild chicory

welcome to summer when the school bell doesn’t clang…

the welcome-to-summer sign i used to tape to the back door, welcoming home from the school year two dearly sweet boys

used to be i’d know it was summer because the cascade of papers to sign suddenly ceased, and the calendar miraculously uncluttered, and boys in the morning no longer groaned. used to be i’d know it was summer cuz something sparkled in the air, and i’d wait at the sidewalk outside the school with all the other parental units, and i’d replay some version of the last-day-of-school from my own long-ago days. i’d do not unlike my own mama had done: make grilled cheese, a decidedly not-packable school lunch; head straight to the library to sign up for summer reading; clang the bell on my bicycle to make sure it was ready for the rides just ahead (the ones down our dead-end lane that wiggled through woods and that was, in effect, our playground).

but this week it came to me only vaguely while downward dog in the garden (pulling some weed, not practicing zen). it was noontime-ish, and the street was more filled with chatter than is usual. i saw a few kids stream by sans backpacks, with that face of liberation that’s fairly unmistakable. and then, before i had a chance to ask, the adorable just-post-first-grader across the street came barreling down her driveway, arms waving like windmills, and she announced to anyone listening (mostly to the upside down me) that it was the last day, and she was going to get ice cream!

so, welcome to summer.

back in 2008, when my boys were six and fourteen, i wrote here on the chair something of a summer manifesto, or maybe simply a wish list. as is my wont, i spelled out the few things i hoped to commit to, the ways i intended to savor the season of indolence, of plenitude, of que sera sera.

my list for “slathering yourself in summerness,” wasn’t too long, and these were a few of the things i promised to make of my summer: go to bed with all windows wide open. wear summer pjs. fall asleep to nightsounds.

wake up, start all over again. only scramble it up. do something brand-new each day. something you always wanted to do, but couldn’t find the time for back in the days when lost mittens had to be located, and snowboots mucked up the hall.

the world back then didn’t scare me as much as it does now (or maybe i just don’t remember), so maybe it matters even more now to squeeze every drop of summerness, of savoring, from the rind of the day. “these molecules of the ordinary,” as cookbook writer nicole taylor recently put it (in this new york times article on cooking for juneteenth), can be, beg to be, made into moments of unbridled joy. to be lifted from the humdrum and unnoticed, into the sacramental.

i think of my friend mary ellen, no longer here, who so savored summer, who strapped on her roller blades, cut back her work days, and jollied her way from june to september. she was prescient and we didn’t know it. her summers were numbered; each one counted more than we knew.

i seem to have flung myself into summer, into this reprieve post-book-editing, by playing in the dirt. i’m outside all day every day when there’s sunshine, and even for bits when it rains. by the time i waddle to the backdoor, my clogs caked in mud, my arms scraped and fingers torn from whatever obstacle the garden’s presented, i all but need a tub to climb into, one right at the door.

i find healing out there where the bumblebees buzz, and the stems and the leaves reach for the sky. i’m away from the news, and i can pretend the world begins and ends where my ferns do their unfurling, and the cardinal belts out his evensong arias.

but even my sanctuary isn’t without its assaults. yesterday, i found out there will soon be a six-foot solid cedar fence cutting off the light and the breeze on one side of our yard, the side that happens to run along our screened-in porch, where the light and the breeze have always been essential to the magic. i tried hard not to cry. but then i came in the house and the full-throttle sting hit me: no more dance of the sun beams just before dusk, as the dollops of pure golden light all but ignite where they land. no more taking in the sweep of green as far as my eye can see. i suppose i’ll dig a new garden, hard along the fence line. and i’ll fill it with plants that delight in deep shadow. the woods are filled with them, at least the parts where the sun doesn’t find its way in. i’ve known for years it was coming, so i tried to be brave. but deep down inside it hasn’t stopped throbbing.

i was going to make a new list here, one filled with summer promises. but maybe i’ll keep it to this, the simplest version of prayer: dear maker of sunlight and breeze, help me to savor, every succulent drop of the indolence and plenitude synonymous with this one holy summer…..

what will you promise yourself to do with this one incoming summer?

retreat to mothering earth…

my not-so-secret skinny rail of a garden

mothering, a verb that has always spoken to me for its broad application, its attachment to acts and not to a particular gender, doubles its duty as a descriptive of those acts as life-giving, as loving. now attach it to earth, allow it to describe the essence of so much of creation––and our place in it––and the whole shebang snaps into sharp focus: mothering earth embraces us, wraps us in her proverbial arms, allows us to rest our weary head against her bosom, her heartbeat. she holds us till the shaking ceases. she brushes the nettles from our hair, sets us back on our steadying way.

it’s a notion i found in pablo neruda’s “i ask for silence,” a poem that speaks to the stillness––the oasis from sound, from stirring––my soul is seeking. 

. . . But because I ask for silence,
don’t think I’m going to die.
The opposite is true;
it happens I am going to live.

To be, and to go on being.

I will not be, however, if inside me,
the crop does not keep sprouting,
the shoots first, breaking through the earth
to reach the light;
but the mothering earth is dark,
and, deep inside me, I am dark.
I am a well in the water of which
the night leaves behind stars
and goes on alone across fields.

It’s a question of having lived so much
that I want to live a bit more.

Pablo Neruda, an excerpt of “I Ask for Silence” from I Explain a Few Things: Selected Poems

and, as neruda knows, so my unspokenness knows.

i find myself pulled into the garden, and soon down to my knees. muddy knees, grass-stained knees, be damned. i go down to the lilliputian place. where a dragonfly the color of limes is hovering; his shadow eclipsing the fat bud of a peony who might think the hoverer an alien from outer cosmos. where worms wriggle, endlessly defying geometries; i sense their delights, the deliciousness they find in the loam i’ve kneaded and kneaded over the years. 

it is the apothecary without pills, mothering earth and her patches of garden. its potions are in the perfumes of the peony, the fading scent of the lilac now past bloom, past seduction. mothering earth’s elixirs are the stillness so still you can tell when the breeze barely moves. it’s the air, unfiltered. chilled or warmed by rivers of winds surging around the marble that’s ours, the blue marble. its dramas––ones that delight, ones that stir sorrow––are the openings and closings, the risings and fallings, of all that makes its home there, a cast not limited to botanicals. a cast of birds and butterflies, those wiggly worms and the many-appendaged crawlers (some call them creepy, i do not).

i retreat to mothering earth when the world all around and within gets too vicious, too ragged, too worn. my preferred posture is bent, and down low. i want to put my ear to the thrum of the grass growing and the roots deepening. i want to catch the morning light as it first drapes across the fronds of my ferns now at full mast. 

i’ve been wobbling for weeks now with a dizzying, one that comes with heart pounding and queasiness in waves that feel pacific-sized. i’m convinced it’s the aftermath of christmastime’s covid, the red-ringed virus that finally caught up with me, never-minding my double masks and double boosters. it’s slowing me down, some days more than others. and being out where the breeze blows, and the sun shines in unbroken beams, it steadies me. long as i don’t do backbends or bows from the waist. 

once a child of make-believe times and places, i retreat to that familiar fiefdom even now. even now with my own children long past making believe, long past six-feet, if anyone’s measuring. all week i’ve been building a gurgling fountain, a simple one, made from a moss-covered planter, filled with river rocks i’ve gathered from magical places over the years. in my imagination i’m building not simply a gurgler but a cavalcade of sound that will soothe me, cast its magical spell upon all who catch the music of water plashing on rocks. i am building a way station for birds and chipmunks, a place for even the hosta to dip her thirsty leaves. and i can get determined, refuse to give up, refuse to order a ready-made one from a catalog. determined is sometimes a polite way, a watered-down way, of saying i’m a wee bit obsessed. i can hear the gurgle in my mind’s ear, and despite a shorted-out extension cord, and a pump that gave up the ghost, i’ve not yet abandoned my plot. i’ll get to gurgling before the sun sets to signal shabbat this evening.

it’s all the perfect balm after weeks of editing, weeks of being torn by the news. i pay no attention to news when i’m flesh to flesh with mothering earth. my news of the day is which bloom is on the brink, and which is waning. the choreography of this mothering plot, it’s ceaseless. 

sometimes we all need to be mothered. mothering earth mothers me. 

and i bask in her stillness. 

where have you found your stillness, your healing balms, of late?

well, here’s a first for the ol’ chair: a talkie, in the old vernacular. in other words, not just a picture but a gurgling picture……

in memoriam…

you might want to look away. but the horrors of the last two weeks demand we do more than pause and pick right up again. this week, the place was a school in a small town in texas, a fourth-grade classroom the site of the worst of it. ten days before, it was a supermarket in buffalo, new york.

ever since my second or third day on the job at the chicago tribune, i’ve been writing obits, those few short sentences or maybe a handful of paragraphs in which we try to capture the essence of who someone was. it’s a record for the ages, ones that used to be pasted into the pages of a family album, or carefully scissored out of the paper and tucked in the page of a bedside book or a bible. or a wallet. the ones in wallets always choked me up the most, when years later someone would pull out from their purse or their back pocket a worn leather billfold, and know right where to reach for the newspaper clipping of someone they’d loved. sometimes you found out the words you wrote in a newspaper stuck around for a very long while.

i’m afraid the someones who can change things are looking the other way, too many of them. and i won’t make even a ripple sitting here tapping out postage-stamp-sized obits for each of the 32 souls now departed, now torn from the ones they so dearly loved, the ones they would have clung to, if given half a chance. but to read of the simple quotidian joys, to assemble the notes of how and for what they were remembered, was and is a devotional gesture. it’s a genuflection in short sentences, a way to begin to absorb the hell we have wrought here.

no one should have to worry that running into the store for strawberries for shortcake might be our very last act. or that hiding in the closet of your fourth-grade classroom will be the place where you take your very last breath. something is wrong here. very very very very wrong. something is twisted and cruel and the drip-drip-drip of it all is anesthetizing, a toxic numbing takes hold. you can start to not notice.

the postage-size stories that follow are what i could find on each of the 32 victims, those from uvalde and those from the massacre in buffalo. it’s a long list, and you might not make it to the end. i’m writing it anyway. because to tell even a wisp of their stories is to begin to make real the horror of all that’s lost. their stories are utterly ordinary, a fourth-grader who swooned for a second baseman, a grandpa who ran in a store for a birthday cake.

yesterday’s news snapped into the sharpest focus the dimensions of grief we can’t grasp: the husband of one of the two uvalde teachers died of a massive heart attack in the wake of his wife’s murder. they’d been together for 24 years; high school sweethearts who married, and had four children. that’s what grief can do.

here are their stories, first the children and teachers of texas, and on to buffalo and the ten who died there…

In which, in a posture of reverence, we pause in silence to first hold up each of the 22 blessed ones who died in the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas….

Here’s the little we know:

Irma Garcia, 48, a fourth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary, a mother of four, had been married to her high school sweetheart, Joe, for 24 years. Irma died in the slaughter inside the school. Joe died of a fatal heart attack on Thursday. Their four children, two sons and two daughters, range in age from 12 to 23.

Eva Mireles, 44, a fourth-grade teacher who co-taught with Irma Garcia. Her daughter Adalynn posted this on Twitter on Wednesday: “Mom, you are a hero. I keep telling myself that this isn’t real. I just want to hear your voice,” the tribute read. “I want to thank you mom, for being such an inspiration to me. I will forever be so proud to be your daughter. My sweet mommy, I will see you again.”

Amerie Jo Garza had just turned 10. She tried to use her cell phone to call police during the shooting. Her father, Angel Garza, is a medical aide who rushed to the school, and he told this story to CNN: 

After arriving at the scene, he saw a girl covered in blood who told him that someone had shot her best friend. When Garza asked who her best friend was, the girl replied, “Amerie.” His daughter.

“I just want people to know she died trying to save her classmates,” said Amerie’s father. “She just wanted to save everyone.”

Xavier Lopez, who was 10, had just been lauded at the school’s honor roll ceremony. He was funny, never serious, and he had a smile….a smile, his mother said, she would “never forget.”

Uziah Garcia, also 10, and “full of life.” He loved anything with wheels. “The sweetest boy that I’ve ever known,” said Uziah’s grandfather.

Jose Flores Jr., 10, loved baseball, video games, and was “an amazing big brother,” especially to his baby brother. “He would just be like my little shadow,” Jose’s mother, Cynthia, said. “He would just be helping me with the baby. He had a thing with babies, like my friends’ babies. He just had a thing with babies. He was always nice.” His sister, Endrea, was in another fourth-grade classroom. She survived.

Lexi Rubio, 10, made the All-A honor roll. She loved baseball and basketball and wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. “Please let the world know we miss our baby,” said her father through tears. “All I can hope is that she’s just not a number. This is enough. No one else needs to go through this.”

Tess Marie Mata, 10, had been saving her money to go to Disney World, according to her sister, Faith. She loved Ariana Grande, TikTok dances, and the Houston Astros, especially second baseman José Altuve.

Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo was 10. She put a smile on everyone’s face. Navaeh is heaven backwards.

Eliana ‘Ellie’ Garcia was 9, just about to turn 10. She dreamed of becoming a teacher, but in fourth grade she loved the movie “Encanto,” cheerleading, and basketball. She was the second oldest of five girls in her family.

Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez was 10. She died in the same classroom as her cousin, Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares.

Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, “a little firecracker,” according to her father Jacinto, was “full of love and full of life. She would do anything for anybody.” She was 9, and died in the hospital almost three hours after the shooting.

Eliahana ‘Elijah’ Cruz Torres was 10. “Our baby gained her wings,” said her aunt Leandra Vera.

Jailah Nicole Silguero was remembered as “a bespectacled 10-year-old,” whose mother Veronica Luevanos posted updates to Facebook all through Tuesday night into the wee hours of Wednesday. She’d started posting in the hours when she didn’t know what had happened to her daughter, and she was begging for answers. When Jailah’s mother finally found out, she wrote: “I’m not ready for this,” with an image of a broken heart, and a link to Jailah’s obituary. Just before 3 a.m., Veronica wrote: “I’m so heart broken.” Later she added: “My baby you didn’t deserve this neither did your classmates. R.I.P my beautiful angel.”

Jayce Luevanos, 10, whose cousin Jailah (above) was also killed, lived with his grandfather, and every morning Jayce made his grandpa a pot of coffee. 

Miranda Mathis was 11, and very smart. Her best friend was her brother, who was in another classroom when the gunfire broke out in Miranda’s classroom.

Makenna Lee Elrod was 10. She loved to dance and sing and she “made friends everywhere she went.” She was beautiful, smart, and funny, and her smile “would light up a room.”

Layla Salazar, 10, won six blue ribbons at her school’s field day. Her father, Vincent Salazar, shared a video of his daughter on Facebook; he captioned the video: “Run with the angels baby!”

Alithia Ramirez had just turned 10. When her parents welcomed Beto O’Rourke into their home in the hours after the shooting, birthday balloons and her artwork were still taped to the walls. “They want the world to know what a beautiful, talented, happy girl she was,” O’Rourke wrote.

Maite Rodriguez’s age is unknown at this time, though there is a photo of her proudly holding her honor roll certificate in front of the school banner. Her mom’s cousin, Raquel Silva, wrote on Facebook, on behalf of Maite’s mother, Ana: “It is with a heavy heart I come on here on behalf of my cousin Ana who lost her sweet baby girl in yesterday’s senseless shooting. Our hearts are shattered.”

Rojelio Torres, who was 10, was not identified nor his family notified till almost 12 hours after the shooting. His aunt Precious Perez told a local TV station: “We are devastated and heartbroken. Rojer was a very intelligent, hard-working and helpful person. He will be missed and never forgotten.”

and, just 10 days before, 10 more lives gunned down in the aisles of a grocery store.

Pearl Young, 77, a grandmother to eight, spent every Saturday morning volunteering at a food pantry run by her church. A “strict but loving” mother, she still worked as a high school substitute teacher. She was, her son Damon Young said, “full of joy. She just loved life, and she loved the church.” She’d stopped at the Tops Friendly Markets after going out to breakfast. Her son was going to pick her up, but suddenly her text messages stopped, and Damon’s phone filled instead with news alerts about the hell unfolding inside the store.

Ruth Whitfield, 86, was “a blessing for all those who knew her,” said her son, the retired Buffalo fire commissioner, Garnell Whitfield. Ruth had stopped at the Tops after caring all day for her husband of 68 years in the nursing home where he now resides. She was the mother of four, and doted on her family––especially her husband, constantly cutting his hair, ironing his clothes, dressing him and shaving him. “There’s very few days that she did not spend time with him attending to him,” her son said. “She was his angel.”

Andre Mackniel, 53, went to the Tops to get a birthday cake for his son. He was “selfless and generous,” a loving father and grandfather who used “to check in on everyone.” On Facebook, Mackneil’s fiancee wrote this: “Today my baby was born but today my soul mate was taken. How do I tell my son his daddy’s not coming home? How do I as a mother make it ok? Someone please tell me because I really don’t know,” she wrote.

Katherine ‘Kat’ Massey, 72, “the glue” of her very close family, had stopped at the Tops and asked to be picked up in 45 minutes. When her brother came by to get her, he saw police putting up crime tape. She sometimes wrote for the local newspaper, and one of the topics she was most concerned about: guns.

Celestine Chaney, 65, was described by her son as a “survivor,” who twice had survived brain aneurysms. Her son, Wayne Jones, said that when he was 12, he was twice called out of school to rush to the hospital, where he was told his mother wouldn’t make it through the day. His grandmother, he says, made him “go to the foot of the bed and pray.” She later survived breast cancer, but she didn’t make it out of the grocery store. “She was a beautiful person, a spunky, independent woman,” Jones said of his mom. “The life of the party, just a joy to be around.”

Margus D. Morrison, 52, was a school bus aide, a lovable guy who liked to joke. His younger brother Frederick, who said the two were “tight like best friends,” couldn’t find many words in the wake of the killing. But he did say this: “It hurts me so much right now because I wasn’t expecting to lose him.”

Heyward Patterson, 67, was at the Tops because he often drove members of his church to the store, helping them load their groceries, and then taking them home. “That’s what he did all the time,” his cousin Deborah Patterson said. “That’s what he loved to do.” He was gentlemanly, and sprightly, a “real-life, down-to-earth man.” He was a deacon in his church, and loved to sing. One relative compared him to Smokey Robinson ––“only better.”

Aaron Salter Jr., 55, a retired Buffalo police officer, was described by the Buffalo Police Commissioner as “a hero in our eyes.” He was the security guard on duty at the Tops, and he tried to take down the gunman, to spare any lives. “I’m pretty sure he saved some lives,” the commissioner said. 

Roberta Drury, 32, the youngest of four siblings, had moved from Syracuse to Buffalo to help her older brother who was undergoing treatment for leukemia, and to help care for his children. Once her brother had gotten through the treatment, she’d decided to stay on and help him rehab an old bar he had bought. The Washington Post reported that as an African American child adopted at 18 months into a White family, Roberta (known as Robbie) was “no stranger to racism.” In her family, “race never mattered,” said her sister, Amanda. “So this is just ugly on a level that as a family we can barely wrap our heads around.”

Geraldine Talley, 62, was described as “the sweetest.” An avid baker, her Facebook page was filled with desserts she made for the people she loved: cream cheese apple cinnamon bread pudding, peanut butter pie, strawberry filled cupcakes. She had gone to the Tops with her fiance to get sandwich meat for a picnic down by the waterfront, and she sent him to grab a certain tea. That’s when the shooting started. According to family members, her fiance started calling her name, but didn’t see her, and then hid inside a freezer. The gunman shot the door off the freezer, but the fiance survived, and Geraldine died in the store.

may their memories be a blessing, and may their names and their stories not soon fade into the cavernous silence….

in which we haul old words out of the crypt…

whilst i take a necessary romp through the copy editing room––chasing errant commas, untangling knotted sentences from my book in the making––i bring you a lexicographic exercise all your own, a few old words to haul from the crypts of time….

traipsing through the big apple for the last deliriously heavenly string of days, i found myself in the tenement museum on the lower east side, just a hop and a skip from 53 suffolk street, the very tenement where my children’s great grandfather settled in and built a life—running a bakery and fathering four children of his own, the baby of whom was my father-in-law who grew up to be a newspaper editor and publisher on the jersey shore and the father of my beloved. isidore kaminski, once a wheelmaker in the russian czar’s army, found his way to delancey and suffolk streets upon arrival to these shores via the SS Uranium, direct from the port of rotterdam, where he was leaving behind the austro-polish-russian city of ostrołęka—and a young wife he’d soon beckon to america. 

the corner of delancey and suffolk streets, lower east side

while awaiting our illustrious tour guide who would provide a peek inside grandpa izzie’s early days, and the squalid life crammed inside three shotgun rooms measuring all of barely 300 square feet, we idled in the decidedly excellent gift shop. among the many many tchotchkes that beguilingly glimmered to catch my eye, the one i grabbed was none other than the little book of lost words: collywobbles, snollygosters, and 86 other surprisingly useful terms worth resurrecting, by a fellow named joe gillard, the creator of “history hustle,” an online history publication for the digital age.

it is so packed with deliciousness (of a literary ilk) it nearly made me drool (in a purely literary way). and so whilst i deep dive into the copy edits that just landed on my desk, for this latest book of mine in the making, i thought i’d let you frolic in a wordly romp all your own. 

ramfeezled: exhausted from a hard day’s work

herewith a short list of words we must work to resurrect, to bring back into daily conversation at dinner tables, water coolers, and playlots all across the land. they run from A (absquatulate: to run off with someone in a hurry; to abscond) to W (wamblecropt: severe digestive discomfort). and i hereby pledge to bring you the best of the bumper crop, the ones sure to whirl off your lips or are so dreamily defined as to demand daily exercise. 

so, settle in, grab your mugs, and repeat after me:

akrasia: (ancient greek) the act of knowing you shouldn’t be doing something, but doing it anyway. deliberately acting against good judgment.

amphigory: (19th-century english) a piece of writing that appears to have meaning but is really just foolish nonsense. (i know nothing about amphigory. ahem.)

betweenity: (18th-century english) being in the middle, or between things.

collywobbles: (19th-century english) stomach pain or sickness from nervous anxiety. (can’t imagine.)

flapdoodle: (again, 19th-century english) foolish or blatantly false ideas or words. (we seem to be living through an outbreak.)

honeyfuggle: (19th-century english. dialect) to compliment or flatter someone to get something you want. (who would do such a thing?!)

mayhap: (16th-century english) perhaps, possibly.

ninnyhammer: (16th-century english) a fool. 

quanked: exhausted or fatigued from hard work

prickmedainty: (16th-century english. dialect) an overly nice person.

quafftide: (16th-century english) the time for drinking alcohol. (i admit to being a fool for Q words. i find them poetic to no end, nearly every time…)

quanked: (19th-century english) exhausted or fatigued from hard work.

sloom: (19th-century scottish) a light, gentle sleep.

snollygoster: (19th-century english. american slang) a dishonest, corrupt, and unprincipled person. esp. a politician. (again, we’re overpopulated here.)

somewhile: (12th-century english) at some other time, sometimes. (this might be the word i’ll work hardest to revive. although betweenity might be my runner-up.)

sonntagsleerung: (early 20th-century german, medical terminology) the depression one feels on sunday before the week begins. (i remember it well from days gone by.)

uhtceare: oot-kee-ar-uh (10th-century old english) lying awake in bed feeling anxious. (can’t imagine.)

i leave you now, mayhaps, to breathe life into these dusty, musty old bits of archaica. call me a ninnyhammer, but i’ve a hunch we can make this happen….or else we’ll all get quanked from trying….

any favorite old words you’d nominate to bring back to the daily lexicon? was there a word or words you always heard growing up, one whose very utterance to this day sweeps you back in time to the particular place or someone from whose lips it fell?

ultracrepidarian: a person with opinions on subjects beyond their knowledge

and, yes, yes, i do note that among the pages i’ve made into pictures i seem to have plucked a preponderance of words expressing sheer exhaustion. coincidence not missed on me….

catching up…

it’s been 792 days since that red-ringed virus shut down the world as we know it. all sorts of events got pushed off to the side, and plenty others — too many others — happened anyway, though no one was allowed to gather, to convene to absorb each other’s pain or amplify the joy of sweet triumphs large or small or somewhere cozily in the middle.

a kid i love made it across one of the toughest finish lines of his life back in may of 2020. turned in a book-length dissertation, crossed off the last of the law school to-do’s, and promptly slept in the morning his law school zoomed some semblance of quasi graduation.

they promised they’d make it up down the road, whenever ol’ covid relinquished its grip, let humans be human again. that moment, allegedly, is now. (though a good part of me is not so sure the grip is much relinquished as we were dashing to the pharmacy the other night for a friend who fell ill with covid for the third time since this all started and needed us to grab a prescription of paxlovid, the anti-viral wonder drug, and on our one little block, house after house is sealed shut for the cases of covid brewing inside.)

so we’re leaping into the unknown, taking our chances, flapping our wings new york way, and motoring up interstate 95, along the connecticut coast, where, come saturday morning, all four of our little family will convene with all the gusto we can muster there on an old campus where the classes of 2020 and 2021 get to make it official.

after all that separation, the simple magnificence of being together, being able to see the gleam in the eyes of the ones we love most, being able to wipe away a tear in real time, squeeze hands while walking through nothing so fancy as a parking garage: that is the definition of blessing.

despite its many deprivations, one good thing about these pandemic years is that it’s made the simple miracle of being together all the sweeter, more succulent.

there is catching up to be done, in the wake of red-ringed abductor of so many lives and so very much living.

so, two years after the fact, we are ditching long distance, saying no thank you to zoom. doesn’t matter to me if it’s two years too late. we’re going to be there. we’re going to hear that kid’s name when it’s called, and we’re going to watch that lope i know so well as he makes his way across the stage. i imagine i’ll be rifling through a cerebral cortex of memories, the late nights we stayed on the phone, the trips to the emergency room, the hours and hours i worried about how many days he’d gone without sleep, fueled on coffee and fumes. and i know i’ll be thinking all the way back to the start of it all, back to the very last thing he said to us, there on the sidewalk the morning we left him at law school, after we’d moved him in, made the requisite rounds of trips to IKEA for bookshelves that would not withstand the weight of all his books. he gave his papa a sturdy handshake, looked him in the eye, and said with all the certainty we had worked for and prayed for all those years: “thank you for everything; i’ll take it from here.”

and he did. and he does…

and that is the joy and the love beyond words that will be pulsing so loudly as i sit on the edge of my chair gulping back tears and holy hallelujahs.

God bless you, always, sweet Will. and thank you. love, always, your very own mama.

cap, gown, and hood in 2020 — but no ceremony. will add the real deal once it happens…

what catching up are you doing these days?