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Tag: back to college

never enough…

dispatch from 02139 (in which we’ve returned “home” from our swoop down the eastern seaboard — a grand thanksgiving repast in new york city, in the brownstone at 94th and lex we have come to know and love for its grace (and wild rice salad, and indian corn pudding, and oven-browned brussels sprouts), followed by a zip through the lincoln tunnel to one fair haven, and my tall fellow’s ancestral home, the 1789 gardener’s cottage where, to this day, his heart ticks at its fullest, its soundest)…

i should have mastered this. should have figured this out. should have, should have, should have.

but i haven’t.

not when it comes to saying goodbye, not when the goodbye is to my firstborn, grand thump in my heart, big brother to the little guy, the one who’s been away, off at college for nearly three whole semesters now.

you’d think i could get through it without the preamble rumble down in my belly, without the pounding in my heart, without the tears welling and spilling.

but i haven’t.

each time, i swear, it feels like someone is unplugging a cord that keeps my glow up and glowing. that has something to do with how i breathe. that puts the purr in my heart.

each time, in the hours before, as i start to feel the yanking, the turning and twisting of parts deep inside, as i start to picture the hours and days ahead without him, without the unspooling of conversation that comes, unexpected, as i chop in the kitchen, as i fold laundry, as i tie my shoes and head out for a stroll, i start to see the color draining away.

i start to feel empty all over again.

i think back to the days of villages, when a mother and son would never be farther than a few cottages away, down behind a waist-high stone wall, through an arched timbered doorway, in a room where embers on the hearth burned orange, persimmon and red.

i wonder why, nowadays, mothers and children need live miles and miles, whole ZIP codes, away.

oh, of course, i settle back into my rhythms. get used to plowing through the day without the flash of his million-watt smile. without dinners fueled by his stories. (fact is, i don’t mind, not one little bit, seeing his bunk smooth and unrumpled. don’t miss the volcano of clothes he spills on the bedroom floor.)

we left the boy back in new york city. he’s a man now. my last glimpse of him was under a streetlight at the corner of 94th and lexington avenue. he filled out his shetland sweater, his chest now strikingly, breathtakingly, the shape and size and velocity of my own papa’s. a chest i always loved. a chest that made me feel safe against the world. and now that chest belongs to my son, my sweet boy, my strapping 6-foot-3 chunk of a man.

as i stepped back from his hug, from his long arms, broad shoulders, soft hands, i felt the pull like stretching of dough. i, into the distance. he, into the thick of his life. a whole weekend before him, a weekend with his beloved cousin and aunt, a weekend romping through the best of new york, a new york i’ll never see.

fact is, it’s his life he lives now. whole chapters and verse distant to me. unknown. uncharted.

as it should be. as it’s meant to be.

but that does not make the parting of mother and child one drop easier. not for this mother anyway.

it’s not that i want him tucked by my side. God, no. this is why and how i’ve raised him — to spread his arms wide as wide can be, to wrap in as much and as deep as he can, and then to soar high.

it’s just that along with that soaring comes the fact that mama bird’s back in the nest, or up on some other limb, watching the sky, watching the loop-de-loops. wings on alert, ready to spread, to enfold, in case there’s a fall, a need to harbor, to shelter again.

and that airspace between mother and child, that life space, it just seems to take — every time — getting used to.

i always think, i’ve never my fill of him. never enough of his stories. never enough of his heart. never ever enough.

and then, not long after i’d swallowed my goodbyes, i watched my own tall fellow, the one i married, say goodbye to his mama, down in fair haven, on the jersey shore. and i wondered if she too always feels it. that it’s never enough. that one more breakfast together. one more walk to the river. one more, one more, would finally fill the hole.

but truth is, i think it’s a hole that will never be filled. it’s a wanting that goes un-sated.

it’s a yearning, a hunger, a please-come-back that lies at the heart of deep love. most especially, at the heart and soul of mother love.

who in your life do you never ever get enough of? 

photo way above is my boys, big and little, plotting their flag-football moves in a game against the cousins, played on the lot behind the tall fence at hunter college on new york’s upper east side. i can’t get enough of watching the two of them entwine the whole of their lives…. 

photo below is my firstborn at his ebullient best.

happy blessed season of thanks, and beginning of advent, the season of waiting…..and now i am off to a long day of writing….classes wrap up in the next couple weeks. where did that first semester go???

trying to take a drink from a fire hose…

dispatch from 02139 (in which i herewith make the distinction between a “dispatch,” that is, a verbal  post card, reporting from the front, and a “meander,” the more typical musing from the chair. in this year of thinking sumptuously we will need a mix of both, and this week was so over-upholstered, it requires dispatch from which meander might be launched….)

loping down the cobblestones of cambridge last eve, the long tall fellow with whom i’ve entwined my life and i were volleying utterances back and forth in between the huffing and puffing that comes when dashing home from the theatre in attempt to a.) catch the president make his second-round acceptance speech, and b.) duly stop the clock on the babysitter’s tally.

in other words, we were speeding toward home, talking.

the subject at hand was how very dizzying this week has been, how “shopping” classes — a harvard eccentricity in which professors put on “the best of” lectures, and students, accustomed to cherry-picking the choices in their life, dash into lecture halls or seminar rooms, listen for as long as their attention holds, then vote nay or yea, either staying put (thus declaring they’ll take the course) or up and skedaddling (thereby letting the prof know that the dog-and-pony theatrics did not meet unspoken expectation) — had been at once exhausting and exhilarating.

i’d just said that i had looked forward all the dizzying day to sitting quietly in the theatre, the famed cambridge-based american repertory theatre (A.R.T.), absorbing all that needed to be absorbed.

but instead of quiet, a landscape for contemplation, the play that had just unfolded before our eyes, “marie antoinette,” by hyperkinetic and brilliant playwright david adjmi (he was there to talk to us, along with the director, as we sipped prosecco and nibbled blanched broccoli in the lobby before the play), had been one of full-throttle sensory explosion (in the most glorious way), and rather than theatre as respite, the evening had added yet another massive volume of thought and image to sift through.

to that, the lanky fellow replied, “this whole thing is like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.”

indeed.

i am gulping as fast as i can. and still, my face, my front, right down to the tips of my yellow rubber rain boots, is soaked with all that i can’t  fit into my stretched-wide-open maw.

i do believe i’m missing 98 percent of what’s gushing from the eternal hose. or so it feels.

and that’s only because here in the city of infinite wellspring it comes so fast, so furiously, you’d need a hippopotamus’ great vast jaw to open wide and swallow.

besides taking in trips to thoreau’s walden pond, and a glorious slice of atlantic coast called crane’s beach, and an apple orchard in ipswich where cider donuts were plopping down in doughy life-preserver Os, then floating along a hot oil river till crisped to sugar-and-cinnamon-y perfection, this week was all about taking to the classroom.

our brave little soldier was first up, marching to the bus stop on a rainy morn, declaring, “i don’t want a helicopter mom, i’ll do this myself.”

and so aboard the bus he climbed, the purple cow bus, as it’s so designated. and off he went for the next nine hours. we scooped him up at day’s end from a basketball court where he was the only white kid playing among a forest of sky-high shooters.

he beamed, as did they, when they reported to us that it had been revealed that our not-yet-5-foot shooter could keep up with the best of ’em.

bumping home in the back seat of our cambridge mobile, he went on to declare at least one teacher “awesome,” and was astonished to find the one kid he knows at the school somehow magically made his way into every one of our little guy’s classes. so, all in all, except for the english teacher he thinks is “super tough,” it was an A+ start to his rendition of this adventure.

while he was off being brave, his mama found her heart near pounding through her chest as she took a seat in the far back of her first harvard lecture hall.

wasn’t long till i distinguished myself as the only one in the 300 seats of paul farmer’s global health class who curiously pulled out a pen. i was the odd scritch-scratch amid a sea of click-clack-clicks, as the 18-year-olds madly pound out notes on laptops, and toss curious glances at that archaic instrument, the stick pen.

the school week didn’t end before handing me rejection no. 2 from yet another harvard prof, who refused to let a silver hair sit in on her graduate-level seminar, “the major works of american civilization.” but, touché, i was in the room, pulled right up to the conference table for the whole first two-hour slot, long enough to snare a reading list and syllabus so i can play along at home.

by week’s end it seems i’ve — let me grab my fingers and begin the course count — “ethical reasoning 22: justice,” with rockstar legal thinker michael sandel (that’s the classroom pictured up above, if you can believe, and sandel emerged, bounding, as the chandeliers brightened, from the depths of a sunken staircase on stage, after class opened with a shake-the-rafters rock-anthem video); narrative non-fiction, a seminar for nieman fellows and the occasional tagalong (c’est moi); “modern spiritual pioneers and religious revolutionaries,” in which we explore the lives of leo tolstoy, mohandas gandhi, lech walesa, thich nhat hahn, dorothy day, abraham joshua heschel and martin luther king; rockstar global health doc paul farmer’s “case studies in global health: biosocial perspectives,” in which i wind up either enlisting in the peace corps or finally heading off to med school to save the world;  the hilarious could-be-sit-com “science and cooking: from haute cuisine to the science of soft matter,” in which rockstar chefs jet in from around the world for tuesday lectures, including the likes of much-famed ferran adria (from el bulli in spain), bill yosses (white house pastry chef), dan barber (blue hill), and wylie dufresne (wd-50).

take a breath. it’s still only tuesday aftenoon.

we then dash down to rockefeller hall at the div school, for “virginia woolf and religion,” in which we read at least one woolf novel per week, and present a five-page paper for all the class to critique.

since i’ve been unceremoniously dumped from two classes, poetry and religion, and the major works of american civilization, i intend to homeschool my little old self in the case of those two.

and — why stop when on a cerebral binge? — i’ve a long list of nooks and crannies to explore, among them grolier poetry book shop, inc., the longest-surviving poetry-only book store in america. cross my heart, i’ll soon trek to thoreau’s cabin, at the end of a heavenly trail that traces the shores of walden pond. and i do hope to spend a starry night in the hermitage in newbury that is the retreat house of the monastery just down the lane here in cambridge.

so so very much on the sumptuous list.

but what of the glories that seep in through the cracks, at unexpected moments and places, such as the school bus stop where i’ve met a parisian single mum who founded the french equivalent of city year (a year of do-goodery for kids from 16 to 22), and who is here alone with two kids for a full fellowship at harvard’s kennedy school of government? or the elegant finance professor, just back from a year in china, who each morning strolls in his crisp white shirt and chapeau, and is teaching me the ways of elite chinese 18-year-olds who, at every turn, buck the communist party’s so-called restrictions?

and what about the wife of a long-ago nieman fellow who has invited us into her painting studio and informed me that back in 1981 the tagalong of the fellow was known as the “co-vivante,” instead of the more pedestrian “affiliate,” our current official tag?

it is dizzyingly much. but not too much. because i stay up late to sift through my day’s notes, and i bend my knee and ask for strength whenever i need. i’ve already found my place, near the book of petitions at st. paul’s, where i venture when ready for refueling.

i must dash to scoop up soccer shorts off a cambridge front porch, because even amid all the thinking, there is soccer to be played. but before i go, i’ll add a new chair feature, the word of the week: last night, while listening to adjmi, the playwright, he mentioned something about a “quiddity,” a word that caught my ear, made me lunge for my pen, a word i’ve not yet had a chance to look up. (though i just did, and it means “the essence of a thing,” a word i’m sure i’ll put to great good use.)

so that’s the quiddity of it all, from here in 02139, at the end of — could it be — a mere week three. only 45 left to go. perhaps by autumn’s end, i’ll have managed to get my thirsty gullet moist in the rushing, gushing fire hose.

do please forgive the book report of a posting, and know that i write not to wow a single one of you, but with an innocent’s sense of over-exuberance, and pinch-me-is-this-real. i’ve a mama or two who want to know every bit of reporting from here on the front, and this one’s for both of them. and you and you and you…..

i intend to introduce thought of the week, as well, but now i must dash, and then i’ll need to scroll through my notes to find the one juiciest morsel worth laying out on the table…..

so the question of the week is simply this: what’s your word of the week? or big idea of the day??

ebbs and flows

no wonder i turn to the waters rushing in along the sands to take my cues, to absorb the rhythms of the comings and the goings. unceasing, ever, and without apparent tussle, the pools come in and roll back out again.

the lessons always there, amid the geometry and the physics of the mysteries around me.

all i need do is become the student, absorb the holy text and the teaching that it offers.

***
once again, i have parted with the boy i love so dearly deeply. once again we have bid our goodbyes, whispered prayers for safe keeping and safe flight. we have felt the tears trickle down our cheeks, and our hearts pounding hard against our chests.

i watched my two sweet boys laugh and jive, in that way they do, one last time this morning. before the school bell rang, and it was time for the little one to throw his arms again around his big old brother, to swallow hard, to not pull away.

the little fella didn’t even notice how each one of us, we cried right along.

theirs was first among the litany of goodbyes. and, for the little guy, this was the true goodbye, the one in the sanctuary of the kitchen, all of us circled round him. not the hurried one in the schoolyard, when they’d dropped him off, and he’d try not to let on how much he’d miss the tall kid riding in the front seat.

once they’d headed off, once the door had closed, and the car had pulled away, a father-and-sons hurried ride to middle school, i stood in the quiet of this house, let the silence seep in, wash over me, the ebbs and flows of leaving, of going off.

it was preamble to the parting later in the morning, when the clock struck quarter past 11, and i slipped the keys off the hook. when i grabbed my backpack, felt my heart sink low, helped him with his bags, and loaded up the car one last time.

that boy won’t be home till summer.

but this time, this blessed time, i know that he is pulled by roots now deep, now lasting. he is thick with friends far off. they peppered him with messages for days. when you coming back? we can’t wait to see you. what time’s your plane? when you landing?

he is loved in a place i barely know. he is loved by friends i have never met. he is loved. and that is all that matters.

last night, as i was sleepy-eyed and headed up to bed, he looked at me and asked, “hey, mommo, wanna stay up and chat?”

who says no to the sweetest, finest invitation ever?

i did not say no.

we huddled under blankets — me, under red chenille on the chilly couch. him, under gray flannel on the red-checked armchair across the way.

for a good two hours, he told stories i’ve been waiting months to hear. i sopped up every one, a sponge in red-and-white-striped jammies.

we went to bed, at last, when my eyes were drooping closed. when i could not keep those eyelids up, at full-throttle attention, no matter how i tried.

no mind, though.

it made the leave-taking that much easier, knowing i have stories tucked inside my heart. knowing that i know now the landscape of his life, his loves, his laughs.

this now is the third goodbye, in what will be a lifelong string of such. i am starting to learn the rhythm, the ebb, the flow.

i now know, because i feel it, that somehow the boundaries of my heart have grown. it now encapsulates the many miles between my boy and me. i know that no miles wrench us apart. they just expand the connection.

i only learned that truth by living it, by breathing in and out the ebbs and flows, the comings and the goings.

but i might have understood it, figured it out, perhaps, if i’d wandered to the beach, paid close attention to what was being whispered there, in the rippling of the lake.

if i’d understood sooner that the paradigm was right before my eyes, etched forever in the sodden sands.

if i’d looked to the waters of this wise and ancient earth, if i’d watched how what flows out comes back again.

if i’d trusted what i saw, what the heavens long have known, long have whispered to the ones who listen.

only now, three times back and forth again, do i settle in to the rhythm, to the knowing that my boy, the boy i love so dearly deeply, he is never going off, just away and back again.

it’s a rhythm i can count on.

happy blessed new year, chair people. may the ebbs and flows of your days, your weeks, your months, be gentle and eternal….

going back

i’d not been there in 32 years. even though in so many ways it’s defined who i am. even though my time there resulted in one of the first words you’d read in my bio.

i became a nurse there. and today, armed with laptop and handouts and even an imovie, i went back to the college of nursing that made me a nurse, back to a classroom.

only this time, i was the teacher.

or, more accurately, i was there to inspire the ones who filled the chairs in the room, the ones who have dedicated their lives to the art of nursing, of healing, of listening, of holding hands down long dark lonely corridors, of wiping brows in the night, of handing over a squirmy wet newborn, of pulling up the covers when it’s all finally over, of taking loved ones by the hand and finding a quiet safe room….

i went back to say out loud, and into the hearts of those who would understand, the words i’ve said every time someone has asked me, how does a nurse become a newspaper writer?

the answer is, it’s not so hard really. every thing about being a nurse can make you a wonderful writer.

you know how to walk in a room and soak in everything, i told them, and they knew what i meant. you see, you take in, you absorb in an instant the spoken and the unspoken.

you know to ask questions, elicit story. you put your heart right out there, open it wide. people sidle up to you. they let you take their hand. don’t flinch when you matter-of-factly slide your arm round their shoulder.

you are a master of looking deep in someone’s eyes. you lock gazes like nobody’s business.

you are all heart. all eyes, and all ears.

you gather up stories for a living, as you tend to the brokenness that fills the beds of your hospitals, your clinics, the homes you visit, and, yes, the school nurse’s office.

you are on the frontlines of life at its most triumphant, and its most crushing.

to be witness to all of this, to be the bearer of truth and unforgettable gospel, is, for some of us, a call to be the teller of story, to shine light where there is darkness, to put down words so none of it slips into nothingness.

that’s what i told the beautiful healers, the beautiful writers, who were gathered there in the room of the school that taught me so much. so heavenly much.

a whole semester in listening, among my courseload. how to listen. how to ask question. how to reach out a hand and gather up the whole cloth of someone’s life story.

it’s but one of the tools of the nurse. a part of how she, or he, carries on the art of healing, of making whole.
i loved being a nurse. i loved learning, becoming one.

i don’t don whites to go to work anymore. don’t pass out meds, making my way from room to room, anymore.

but, so help me God, i hope that not for a minute do i wake up and leave my house without donning all that i learned, that i loved, in the college of nursing.

it was a powerful moment to step back into the place that long ago filled my soul.

i pray that those in the chairs today believe what i told them: you have something to say. and you know how to say it.

the world needs the voices of nurses.

we’re listening….

so tired i am, late late at night after a very long day and long week. i’ve a little boy upstairs who wants a back rub, as he settles into sleep the night before yet another big baseball game. i am, as of now, on vacation. i won’t be here next friday, as i always am. but i will meander once i’m home, and then only three fridays till the one in which i take my firstborn to college.
the picture above is one of the frames from my little inspirational imovie. part of my workshop: “writing the heart of nursing.”
little one calling. no more words. just circles on the small of the back of a little about-to-be-dreamy boy….