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Tag: blessings

ten: a decade of keeping close watch

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a decade is long. a decade is 10, of course. but in this particular case, a decade is the distance between a little boy who was five, and finding his way through kindergarten, and now, a sophomore in high school, a sophomore wishing he was in a faraway high school. a decade is the distance, too, between a boy of 13, an eighth grader who dared his mama to type her way into the dawn (otherwise known by the hardly poetic verb blogging), and the man he is today, 23, and heading to law school.

a decade, too, is the distance i’ve grown since the dawn of december 12, 2006, when i tiptoed into the dim light of my writing room, once the garage of this old house, and sat down to type.

what i wrote that long-ago morning was this:

we are looking for everyday grace. i believe that in quietly choosing a way of being, a way of consciously stitching grace and Beauty into the whole cloth of our days, we can sew love where before there was only one moment passing into another. making the moment count, that’s what it’s about here. inhaling, and filling your lungs and your soul with possibility. learning to breathe again. learning to listen to the quiet, blessed tick and the tock of your heart. filling your soul with great light so that, together, we can shoosh away the darkness that tries always to seep in through the cracks, wherever they might be. please, pull up a chair….

everyday grace, surely, is the shimmering something we’ve found, the holiest thing. it’s there when you look, when you pay close attention. but it’s so easily missed. you need to attend to your post in the watchtower of life. need to be on the lookout, ever on the lookout. you’ve no idea where or when it will come, the everyday grace. it doesn’t arrive with trumpet blast, nor even a rat-a-tat drumroll. true grace is not seeking applause. simply the certain knowledge that it’s just brushed by, grazed against the contours of your heart and your soul. and it leaves you, every time, just a little bit wiser, a little more certain that Holy is all around.

and the quiet we set out to find, it’s infused every square inch of this space. in a world torn at the seams by incivility, in a world where, day after day, tenderness is trampled under the hard boot heels of hate and bullying and a toughen-up attitude, we’ve stayed gentle. we’ve traded in tenderness. we’ve held up a radiant grace, a blessedness that stitches hearts into a whole. and we’ve done it right here on the internet, the mad-dash highway that seems to traffic in all the things that this table is not.

when i think across the arc of years since i first faced the blank black screen (for back in the day, the words here were white against a canvas of black, an inside-out contrast that drove at least one dear friend cockeyed and made her dizzy besides), i tick through this litany: two grade-school graduations, one each from high school and college; a move halfway across the country, and a move back home; a whole presidency, and too many tragedies to begin to count. over the decade, i left my newspaper job, wrote two books, grew a garden, simmered a few stews, stirred countless bowls of porridge, dried even more tears. i’ve kissed goodbye two beloved friends, and a father-in-law like no other. we’ve watched a kid learn to read, another learn to row, nursed and buried a very old cat, counted stars, chased after the moon, sent my mama off to surgery twice, but mostly marveled at her devotion for tuesday night dinners, plied week after week for nearly two dozen years.

in all this sacred time here at the table, i’ve made and deepened friendships. i’ve stood back and watched strangers reach out across the way, find shared communion, grow close in friendships all their own. i’ve listened closely, taken notes, as the two boys i love have wound their way through the landscape of their lives. i’ve loved them in double time as i put their words, their stories, to ink. i’ve netted a moment or two worth savoring, worth holding to the light, worth keeping as long as i’m alive — and then some.

i hadn’t much clue where this typing would go, back on the first day i started. i certainly never dreamed that 10 years later, i’d still be typing, finding my way. i hadn’t a clue that here, in the sacred space of our shared creation, i’d find the holy bliss i’d always been after. i suppose i’ve always been a make-believe girl, and here, at the table, i used the one sure thing i know — words typed into inklings, carved into thoughts, emerged as insights — to claim a space i knew was possible: a place where radiance lights the way, and gentle truth is our guidepost.

on the dawn that marked the first full whirl around the sun (a year that had me writing five days a week, every single weekday), i wrote:

we set out — me and my soul and my fingers — to see where we’d get if we were dropped, one distant december, in the snowiest woods. if we stayed there for a year, groped around, poked under leaves, sat by a babbling brook. looked skyward. counted moonbeams and twinkling stars.

some days, i swear, my ol’ boots, the ones i wear when i’m hiking, meandering about in the woods, they felt like 100-pound weights on each foots.

more often, though, i was barefoot and running through meadows. i was catching a glimpse of the butterfly wing. feeling the gentle fingers of God on my shoulder. hearing the sound of my heart thumping, and thumping some more.

i only kept doing the smartest thing i know if what you want is to get from place A to place Somewhere: i put one foot in front of the other. kept my eyes mighty peeled. my heart too.

and look, here, where we are.

we made it through the woods, all right. but the thing is, along the way, i found a something in the woods that fills my lungs, that makes my blood run quick. that gives me something to think mighty hard about.

i’m thinkin’ maybe the woods is a beautiful place, a place that offers me and my soul just what we need.

with all my heart, thank you and bless you for making this a most beautiful space in the holiest decade of my one sweet life. more to come….

amen.

love, bam xoxox

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what lit your way through the last holy decade? 

blessing, stitch-by-stitch

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but one of the blessings i count…

the dome of heaven, thin veil between earth and sky, is only now daubed with morning’s light. when i tiptoed down the stairs, eager to begin my count of blessings, there was only deep dark shadow, no stars stitched the dawn, not that i could see, constellations occluded by cloud.

i began the day in the hour where i find my deepest prayer: the still-slumbering hours when i alone animate the house. when the creaks in the floorboards come from my soft-fleshed soles pressing against the slabs of oak, when lightbulbs burn — or not — because i flick the switch. when clocks tick unencumbered. when my morning ministrations — scooping seed for the birds, scooping beans for my coffee, cranking the furnace, fetching the papers from the curb — become a liturgy of gratitude, as i lift the curtain on the day, as i sweep my heart in prayer.

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cranberry and pear, under a raw-sugar cloud, before they simmer into relish

and never more so than the dawn that follows thanksgiving, when the refrigerator groans under the weight of turkey carcass, and every inch is strategically occupied with cranberry and cold mashed potato and autumnal roots roasted into surrender. and, because i was on my knees scrubbing last night, with a vat of vinegar and water by my side, the maple slabs by the stove no longer are slick with splattered butter and olive oil.

it’s become something of a tradition on this day when the world screams of one-day-only sales and count-down bargains, and the stories of mobs at the malls are enough to make me break out in hives, i retreat. i take to the woods. to the rustle of brittle grasses under my boots. to the chill against my cheeks. and when i come to a clearing, where a singular oak rises up from the prairie, i trace my gaze heavenward, beyond the bare naked limbs that scrape the late november sky.

the more the world rushes at me, the more certain i’m beating retreat.

but first i wrap myself in prayer, in the count-down of blessing, more emphatic than ever this year as i set out to steady myself in the aftermath of these weeks that have shaken me to my core, as the din all around seems fueled by a hate i can hardly fathom, as the discourse too often appears to have lost its soul.

i bow my head and begin.

before my feet hit the floor beside my bed, i am washed over in the knowing that this morning is especially blessed: all the beds in this old house are filled. the two boys i love, tucked under blankets, their dreams rising up from their pillows. i whisper infinite thanks for these two who, more than anyone, wrote the script of my sacred instruction, who taught me how to be alive, how to love, through their hours of question, and struggle, their shadow and light.

i pause in the closet to stretch a holey old sweater over my head. thank you, dear heavens, for old familiar clothes, the ones that make us feel deeply home, the ones that put on no airs, the ones not afraid to expose their thinnings and raggedy threads.

i find my way down the stairs, passing the wall of so many people i love, ancestral gallery, some in sepia tones, some black-and-white, all framed, all blessed and blessing. not a morning goes by that i don’t pass under their gaze, under their vigilant watch. thank you, all of you who came before, all of you who are wired into our DNA and our souls.

and then i round the bend to the kitchen, the high altar of this old house, really, where pots are stirred, and conversation bubbles up by the hour. where butcher-block counters hold up bottomless vats of talk, of questions and quandaries, as certainly as they bear the weight of my chopping and mincing. thank you, old stained maple block. and thank you, Most Sacred One, for the wisdom that sometimes comes to me, and the holy communion of shared silence in between.

i turn to brew coffee. my hand bumps into an old glass jar stuffed with thyme and oregano snipped from the window box just beyond the sill. thank you, dear God, for thinking to make leaves with a smell and a taste redolent of holiday, or our grandma’s kitchen, or some faraway place on the globe. thank you, too, for star anise and cinnamon stick simmering on the stove, my definition of heavenly vapors.

i tumble out the back door, my old banged-up coffee can spilling with shiny black sunflower seed. in the not-so-distance, i hear the ruffling of feathered wings, and soon as i dump my morning feast, the yard erupts in the darting and dashing of flocks hungry for their sustenance, hungry from the long night’s staving off the freeze. i’ve yet to run out of thanks — nor do i imagine i ever will — for the miracle of the sparrow and the scarlet-coated cardinal and the pair of blue jays who squawk like there’s no tomorrow.

i dash inside, shake off the cold, plop into my old red-checked armchair. i consider the wonder of a chair that wraps its wings around you, and sturdies your spine. thank you, Blessed One, for the hours i spend here, turning pages, inhaling the poetry that life can’t stanch.

and so it goes, our days a litany of blessing. i begin with the tiniest of stitches, a petit point of gratitude that stretches across the vast canvas of my every day.

the more i read, the more i listen, the more deeply i understand that the miracle we’re after, the wonder we seek, the beauty that tingles our spine, it doesn’t come with trumpets blaring, but rather in the accumulated whisper of one small blessing after another. the blessings at once unadorned and majestic. the blessings that make us whole, and fill us when we’re hollowed.

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my blessings, entwined

 

before i ask what blessings fill your day, and your soul, i want to leave a poem i stumbled across yesterday, one that seems to belong here at the table. it’s a meditation on the blessing of a kitchen table. 

Perhaps the World Ends Here
BY JOY HARJO

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. 

and now, what are the simple unadorned blessings that stitch together your day — and your soul?

the blessing of friday night dinner

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the table is already set. the brisket — five pounds of it — now idles in the fridge. its exercise in surrender — from muscled slab to fork-tender succulence — began yesterday, when for nearly five hours it filled the kitchen, filled the whole house really, even the brick steps just beyond the kitchen door, with olfactory titillation — a mix of chili sauce and bay leaf, brown sugar, red wine, clove and peppercorn.

img_8399no one’s coming for another 12 hours. but the preamble, the moment the binder img_8401of family recipes is pulled from the shelf, the moment i place the call to the butcher who always cracks a joke about my irish surname and my jewish cooking, that’s when i begin to be swept up in the magic of it all.

and this friday night, in particular, brings with it a whole new landscape. for all the shabbat dinners i’ve served, and there’ve been many, this is the first time our firstborn is taking the train, and coming home, or coming back to this old house anyway. his home now is miles away. but not too many miles. not as many miles as he’s been before, and will be again. so, tonight, i am sliding into the folds of a brand-new cloth, one i’ve not before slipped my arms, my heart, into. all week, i’ve had flashes of the old mama i must now be, the one with the ample bosom, and the flour-smudged apron, the one who opens wide the front door, as she pushes back the floppy curls now dripping from the workout in the steamy kitchen, and welcomes in her sprawling brood. (ditch the ample bosom, ditch the flour-smudged apron, and the portrait takes a closer resemblance to my reality.)

i’ve had this friday night on the calendar for weeks now. it’s the shabbat when, after dinner, we will go to synagogue to say the mourning prayers, the prayers of yartzeit, marking the one year since my father-in-law, my boys’ beloved grandpa, the only one they ever knew, died.

for this night, the word went out: please be home for dinner.

and so, some time this morning, our old red wagon, now parked on a leafy college campus in iowa, will point east, pass cornfields and the occasional shimmering tower, and finally pull down our alley, bringing home the son who has now been without his father for a whole orbit of the globe around the sun. another boy will hop off his bike, park it in the garage, maybe think to wash his hands, once inside the bustling kitchen. and the third dinner guest will climb off the train, tuck his briefcase under his arm, and stride along acorn-pocked sidewalks till he gets to this old gray-shingled house.

it’s the blessing of the friday night dinner, a blessing like no other i have ever deep-breathed. as the week lurches to a close, as deadlines are met, and hustle and bustle hit pause, i circle in on final preparations. candles stand erect on the table. lids topple off the coterie of pots and pans. i blanket the challah — the loaf of braided egg bread that’s a staple of shabbat — with the cloth my firstborn penned with brightly-colored markers long ago in kindergarten sunday school. wine will be poured.

and one by one, they’ll trickle in, the boys i love. they’ll have put their busy weeks, their worries and distractions, behind them. i’ll strike the match, put flame to wick, and unfurl the first of the three blessings. blessings for the sanctuary of time we’ve constructed friday after friday, just before sundown, according to ancient text and modern-day awe. for all time is holy, but on friday nights when the table’s set, the candles  are burning, and the faces you love are the ones you look up to see, that’s when the cloak of holiness drapes most certainly around your shoulders.

tonight, we’ll raise a glass of deep red wine, and my husband will lead us in the prayer we call “grandpa’s prayer,” the shehecheyanu, the blessing reserved for the most extraordinary times, the most sacred times. the times when you reach deep down to the bottom of your soul, and pull up grace and blessing. when every pore of your being shimmers with the knowing of how richly, finely, you’ve been blessed, anointed by purest holiness.

and because i stumbled on my own jewish prayer of blessing, of remembering, i too will recite words that stir me to full attention, words that make me bristle with deepest knowing just how sweet the hour is, every blessed hour, and the turning of each season. and the knowing, too, that the ones we love are ever woven into the whole of who we are.

the words are these:

In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

When we have joys that we yearn to share, we remember them.

So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

—Text by Rabbis Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer from Gates of Prayer, R.B. Gittelsohn

may the memory of my beloved father-in-law, arthur zavel kamin, ever be a blessing. and may your friday night be drenched in all that is holy, is deep, is broken loose from the shackles of haste and deadline.

do you have a weekly pause for holiness? what’s your preamble for sinking into sacred time?

he gave us a year: this mama will never forget

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the first inkling came a year ago december. it was a bitter cold sunday, and the voice on the line was one that had been making my heart skip since the first time i heard it. the words that followed were these: “mommo, i’ve been thinking. i want to do something meaningful in the year between college and law school, and i can’t think of anything more meaningful than being there for tedd. i think i’ll come home for a year.”

such is the sound of wishes come true. of prayer you hadn’t even put to words, come tumbling true. a mama’s wildest hope.

so, back on a sultry june afternoon, the old black sedan pulled down the alley. out spilled a boy and a thousand some boxes. a childhood bedroom was duly re-ordered. carpet was ditched; floorboards, exposed. old books, the books of a boyhood, were pulled and tossed in a box. college tomes took their place. jobs were procured, the ones that would keep him busy by day. by night, he made his place at the side of the much younger brother, the brother just finding his way into high school, a high school with corridors known to be steep.

DSCF1307for one whole year, a year now gliding toward its close, big brother and little have entwined their hearts a little bit closer. there’ve been late-night runs for grilled cheese. and sartorial counsel unfurled at the bathroom door. there’ve been soccer goals saved in front of the cheering — and very proud — older brother. and shoulder-to-shoulder talks on the couch, in the car, on the all-night airplane ride.

it was into his big brother’s arms that the little one fell the morning our old cat died. the two of them crying, together. one of them wailing, “he was our third brother.” both of them wholly understanding the depth of that truth.

he was here for his brother, yes, but he was here, too, for the whole of us — night after night, as we sat, held hands, and whispered a prayer before picking up forks. not one single dinner for four did i ever take for granted. each one felt sacred. felt numbered.

he was here in this unforgettable year, this year of loss as much as gain. he was here the day we got word that his grandpa had died; that very night, he stood by the side of his papa, both wrapped in their prayer shawls, at synagogue, on the eve of the most solemn day of atonement. he was there, to hold his father’s elbow during the hebrew prayer of mourning. he was there to notice the tear that spilled from his father’s eye. i was too. i saw and felt with my whole soul the presence of father and son standing shoulder-to-shoulder, prayer shawl-to-prayer shawl, in the hour of that father’s deepest grief.

he was here, too, when friend after friend said goodbye before dying, in this year of hard loss. he was here to wrap his arm, and his laughter, around the grieving widower who has spent most every weekend with all of us, sopping up the pieces of his deeply shattered heart.

he was here for me, his old mama. the one who will never tire of long talks at the side of his bed, or chopping in sync at the kitchen counter. i never even minded the piles of laundry, knowing with each pair of boxers i folded that it was a task that wouldn’t last. i considered it something akin to charming to iron old shirts, to track down orphaned socks.

the what’s-next isn’t quite worked out. but the calls are out. the interviews, scheduled. a move will be in the mix. i know that. i’ve always known that.

which is what made this year the most priceless gift i could have imagined. a mother’s gift beyond measure.

it was all a blessing. all wholly unexpected. all counter to cultural norms that these days send kids sailing post college. he came home. he didn’t mind — not so much anyway — the questions from neighbors, the ones who might have looked askance at a kid whose only post-college option appeared to be a return to the roost. we knew otherwise. we knew the whole time.

he’d come home for one reason only: love.

he’d come home for the rare and breathtaking gift of stitching together two hearts. hearts born eight years apart. hearts whose plots on the lifeline had necessarily thrown them into parallel orbits — when one was learning to drive, the other was learning to read. when one was finding his way through a college quad, the other was starting out middle school. but this year — one starting high school, one a man of the world and not too old to remember well the poignant trials of this particular high school — there was much deepening to be done. they could laugh at each other’s jokes. play each other’s silly screen games. bolster each other’s hearts when either one was pummeled. photo

what they grew, over the shifting of seasons, over late nights and not-so-early mornings, was a brotherly love to last a lifetime.

i often flash forward in my mind’s eye, imagine them calling each other in the long years ahead. i imagine their faces, lined with deepening grooves, the ones that come from living. i imagine their manly voices, calling long-distance — just to laugh, simply to celebrate, to be the front line in each other’s rescue squad.

i once feared that the older one — long the only one — would be all alone after we’d gone. i know now, i pray now, that they’ll long have each other’s company — shared stories, shared love, unbreakable bond.

and so, on the brink of that second sunday in may that honors motherhood, i find myself sated. i need no toast points ferried to bed. no violets clumped in a vase. i don’t even need a hand-drawn card. i’ve lived and breathed a year i never expected. in the short story of my life there will always be this one radiant whirl around the sun.

and that’s more than i’d ever have dreamed when someone once showed me the flickering spot on the ultrasound, the one they said was his heart, very much alive. the one that ever since has quickened the pulse of my own. my very own metronome, come home, all in the name of pure love.

happy blessed day of mothering, to all who mother in the infinite ways of that certain brand of loving. to my own mama, and the mother of my heart, the one i was gifted through marriage. may your days be filled with the knowing that the children you birthed simply adore you. and may the memory of the mamas who birthed you, and loved you, fill your hearts on this day of honoring a mama’s rare love.    

what one gift do you wish for, what one unimaginable gift? or have you found it already?

wintery blessings

cookie baking wintery blessings

it’s in the air, i know it. it seeps in through those unsuspecting places, the nooks and crannies of the heart that must be so hungry.

hungry for quiet, for the magic of christmas — the original hushed and hidden-away story, one that brings me to tenderest tears every time. every time i really truly stop to think the whole thing through, to absorb every blessed drop of a story that begins in deepest humility: travelers, bone-weary travelers trekking by donkey, who can’t find a room, who settle in the hollow of night in a shadow-laced barn, where a baby is birthed, wonder child, and laid in the feed trough, where the lowing of cows and the bleating of sheep fill in for the heavenly chorus.

it’s a story that begs silence, the in-rush of awe. it’s a story that begs us to listen. to stanch all the noise and perk up our ears. and our hearts.

i found myself nearly glistening yesterday, wrapped in the gray of the afghan day out my window. christmas-y tunes cranking loud and emphatically. dumping flour by the cupful into a bowl where eggs had been cracked, vanilla dolloped, and my grandma’s cookies once again were soon to be pulled from the oven. kitchens, of course, are magical places.

and this is the season for magic. this is the season that sparks the little child inside us all. maybe that’s why we wrap it in tissue-y papers, and tie it with candy-cane string. maybe that’s why we loop glistening lights onto already beautiful boughs from the forest. and dig deep in the recipe tin. to unearth a little bit of the child we were and always will be.

yesterday, i marveled at the circles of life: marveled that my grandma’s century-old recipe was printed onto a recipe card that came with a book that i wrote, and i was once again rolling out that buttery dough for those cookies, this year to be ferried to the school, the inner-city break-your-heart school, where my firstborn is now a teacher, teaching children from kindergarten to eighth grade how to read. i don’t think the layers of christmas get much more christmas-y, much more blessed, than that.

this year, especially, i’ve noticed that christmas — and with it a host of wintery blessings — comes whirling through the air, whether you’ve decked the house, or tucked away boxes. or not. this year at our house, not many boxes are tucked away. we’ve somehow slipped into a fairly box-less christmas. we’ve certainly dialed down the mad-dashing. i suppose i’ve spent too many christmases plum tuckered out by the time i panted across what felt like a finish line.

and the beauty of that — i seem to have discovered — is that i feel just as filled with christmas, with the essence of christmas, without all the noise. maybe because there’s so little noise.

there is simply a blanket of sumptuous calm — a gift in december, indeed. it’s rare, and it’s blessed. and it calls us by name, and by whisper. come, savor this hour; this hour is holy, this hour is yours.

in the spirit of quietly sharing this unfettered gift — the abundance of heart that tumbles down from the heavens (not unlike the few flakes that, on cue, just started to fall out my window) — i thought i’d bring to the table this morning a string of the wintery blessings my beautiful friends at abingdon press (the fine folks who published slowing time) made for me to sprinkle across the december landscape.

they must have workshops of elves who whip up these sweet little morsels. they’ve taken lines from the pages of slowing time, and made them into delectable little picture postcards (that’s how i like to think of them, anyway; in current vernacular they’re called “memes,” a word whose origins escape me completely). (p.s. of course i had to look it up, and my online dictionary tells me it’s a term coined by controversial evolutionary biologist richard dawkins in 1976 to convey the way cultural information is transmitted. aren’t you glad you now know?)

anyway, i thought i’d sprinkle a few across the table this morning. and they’re yours to keep, to do as you wish. you could print them out to make a holiday card. or tuck them into the pages of your favorite book. you could pin them on a cork board, of the actual or virtual variety. or you could simply scroll by, and think, oh, how nice.

here’s one… Meme-SavorWintersDream

 

 

 

 

 

 

and, oh look, here’s another…

Meme-ComeAlive-2

and then there’s this sweet one….

Meme-RedBird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and, at last, there’s this little bit of story time. so grab your mug, curl your toes under your bum, wrap in a blanket, and here’s little old me reading a wintery story……

those sweet elves made even more — a recipe card, among the stash — but that’s enough for this morning. if you care to see more, and happen to be on facebook, they’re being posted, blessing by blessing, on the Slowing Time page. or search for #WinteryBlessings.

for now, though, i’m slipping off to chase a few sugary sprinkles out of their hiding places. in the deep dark of last night, we had no real idea where the sprinkles were landing….

but first, deep-down wishes for the quietest, most blessed moments this season of stillness has to offer. may you find joy rushing into your heart, and awe filling your soul.

love, quietly,

bam

what do you count among your wintery blessings?

nine.

nine

we mark time to measure something far deeper than the number of days. we mark time to take stock of our soul. to plumb its depths. to trace across its undulations. to peek into the shadowy places, and bask in the patches of pure illumination.

tomorrow, the twelfth day of the twelfth month, this old chair will once again glide across the stretch of shadow and light on which it began. its ninth circle round the sun. nine years of keeping watch, of perking my ears to the faintest of whispers. the whispers of the heart, yes. but just as certainly the wind rustling the leaves. the blue jay’s squawking. the world holding its breath. the pounding of bare soles against hardwood planks, rushing to the door to welcome love home.

at the break of dawn on december 12, 2006, i tiptoed down the stairs to a little nook of a room where a screen glowed, a screen waiting to be filled with words, with pictures, with postcards from the front — the homefront, in this case. the heart and soul of the homefront.

i had no real idea how all of this would unspool. but i knew that i wanted to carve out a hollow of quiet, a tide pool along the rushing river of life, where you and i might plop our bottoms onto a rock, might dip our finger into the current, might watch the light shifting, listen for the crunch of the forest under the wee padded feet of the creatures who call the woods home.

i knew i wanted a sacred someplace. a place where kindness prevailed. a gentle place, a home for tenderness and telling the truth. a place where we could bring our brokenness, or, just as emphatically, our bold claims of hope.

it would be an enchanted someplace. or at least that’s what i prayed.

i’ve long believed in enchantment. long believed in the possible. and the power of divine imagination. you can, sometimes, if you’re spectacularly lucky and a whole lot blessed, will your way to the landscape of which you dream.

when i was little i spent long hours in the woods across the way from the house where i grew up with a motley crew of four brothers. i plunked sticks into the pond where the ancient turtle basked on a log. i splashed across the rocks in the stream where crawfish bobbed from deep down in the dark.

that’s where i learned to believe in so very much of what still matters — the sanctity of silence, the incandescence of heavenly light, the blessing of being alone, the joy of muddy boots.

and maybe, too, that’s where i learned to believe that, fueled by imagination and spiced with a good dash of faith, i just might carve out a holy place.

and if there’s come to be anything holy about this make-believe table, circled with so many old chairs, it’s thanks to the good grace of your company — your day-after-day, week-after-week, year-upon-year coming by to share a few words, or a story, or kindness or wisdom. and ladles of love.

looking back over the nine blessed years — and thanks to the wizards at wordpress who keep track of these things — i can see at a glance just where these 729 posts have taken us, a bit of a roadmap in reverse, a by-the-numbers snapshot of what’s captured our imagination: 39 posts have considered the angels among us, 16 times i’ve laughed at myself (clearly, no one was counting), stillness has been a subject 22 times, motherhood 101, motherlove 44, mother prayer 17. we turned to cooking — for comfort, for joy — 42 times. blessings have been the subject du jour 64 times, paying attention 51 times, worry 11 (yet another serious under-estimate), wisdom only once (egad!). savoring moments, at 89 posts, is solidly a leitmotif.

and in just the last year here at the chair, we’ve traversed death and grief, awe and hope and hearts that are shattered by the most intimate of devastations or those played out on the world stage. we’ve considered quiet and the eloquence of silence. and this year, blessedly, the trumpets blared at the prodigal homecoming of my firstborn. i’ve written of words and books and harper lee. but if i had to pick three posts that will stick with me forever, it would be the prayer of remembering, the day my little one tried his hand at healing the sick, and, more than any other this year, the magic day at the magic hedge, where my most beloved friend and i pressed each sacred hour against our hearts, knowing, too well, the hours — and she — would soon slip away, a hole in my heart will ache till the end of time.

bless you. and thank you. for every kindness. for every dollop of wisdom. for your patience, your faith, and your blessedness. for the times you make me laugh out loud. and for every time you’ve made me wipe away a tear. from my heart to yours, a never-ending embrace.

may we never give up on the promise to infuse this weary old world with all the love and goodness we can possibly muster.

much love, b.  images

after the feast

fullfridge

if there was one slice of time to slip-slide into a bottle, to save for a rainy day, to relish, it might be that hushed and sumptuous moment when you tiptoe down the stairs and round the bend into the still-dark kitchen, first thing the morning after a very big feast.

the kitchen counters are cleared, the cookstove is sighing a deep sigh of relief, of exhaustion, of having been put through the holiday paces; all burners now still after blasting for hours, the oven now deep in a post-prandial sleep. there might be a bottle tucked off to the side, or the one lonely crescent roll that wasn’t torn into, the odd stack of plates that never got called for duty. open the fridge, though, and the shelves nearly groan, now pressed into service in hopes of preserving just a wee taste of all that was stirred and sautéed and browned and baked and roasted and mashed and pureed and, finally, dolloped over the course of a five-day kitchen maneuver, one mapped out with lists upon lists and timelines and charts and post-its galore.

as i sit snug at the old kitchen table, keeping watch on this blustery drizzle-drenched day, sipping my mug of the one hot liquid that catapults me out from under the covers, i find myself soaked in the grace of a year stitched with sadness, yes, but just as emphatically sewn with a hundred thousand shimmering threads of blessings for which my heart whispers thank you.

i’d start, sure as could be, with the three beds upstairs filled with long lanky boys who come in three sizes — small, long and longer. (while we’re at it, i’d add a long note of thanks for the post-feast delirium that more likely than not will fuel their sweet dreams — and my all-alone quiet — till long past midday.)

it wouldn’t take long — not far from the top of my roster of thanks — till i ticked through the deeply-loved friends who keep me aloft through whatever storms try to yank me down under.

i am thankful, so thankful, for this arthritic old house, and its creaks and its groans. for its doors that won’t close, and the window or two that refuse to budge open. i’m grateful of course for my unruliest garden, the one that paid little mind when i left it (mostly) to its own devices this much abandoned summer. thank God, yes and yes, for my little birds, the ones who buoy my heart with every flap of their wings, each chirp that rises up from their lungs and their throats and their short little beaks. thank you, especially, for the scarlet-robed cardinal i’ve lured back to my roost with scoop upon scoop of sunflower seed.

thank you for the crotchety old cat, the one who decides most nights around 3 in the morn that there is a world beyond this old house through which he must roam; the very old cat, by the way, we’re convinced we’re keeping alive through super-strength doses of love and not a few cans of high-grade tuna.

thank you, heavens above, for brothers strung across the country, and sisters-in-law i could not love more. thank you for mothers, by birth and by heart, ever my back-up squad, at home or afar. thank you for fathers, now resting in heaven. thank you for little niece and adorable nephew, proof that growing up loved is hope for the world.

thank you for books. and thank you for nuggets of time to burrow deep into pages, to contemplate a thought or a word — an old friend of a word or one newly unearthed. garner modern usagethank you, specifically, for my brand-new “garner’s modern american usage,” a genius of a roadmap through the vagaries and tight spaces of vernacular language (the late and ever-brilliant david foster wallace claimed it “eminently worth your hard-earned reference-book dollar“).

and thank you just as deeply for the gem that arrived in the other day’s mail, wendell berry’s “sabbaths 2013,” a small-press edition of 20 poems, signed by the master, and filled with wood engravings now etched into my soul.

WendellBerry

thank you for sacred hours in light-dappled woods with a long beloved friend whose hours, we knew, were numbered. thank you, months later, for the minutes i sat at her deathbed. and thank you, yes thank you, for the long hours since, as we grope through the dark, wrapping our hearts around her left-behind beloveds, as we cry with them, make room on the couch, share blankets, pile plates with good eats, and blessedly utter her name amid the swapping of stories and deep belly laughs, and believe — even when they cannot — that the light will someday come again.

zenceci

my list of thank yous is long. my list of petitions seems to never grow shorter. so before i sign off, the ones that top this season’s beseeching: a friend and a sister i love, both still facing cancer head on. and another friend whose ankle, of late, is shot through with screws and rods and titanium plates, and who finds herself recliner-bound, though she’d never complain, not even a whimper.

lest i linger too long, before i rummage through the fridge, pile my plate with a spoonful of this, a swift taste of that, these are a few of the prayers that rise from my heart, on this, the glorious morn after the feast.

thank you, and bless you, amen and amen.

at my house this morning, one of the somethings left on the counter is a tumble of string from a box from the bakery where my husband bought brownies to stack into a tower in homage to his papa, whose november-25th birthday was often shared with the turkey, always nestled nearby, and always punctuated with thick-frosted brownies, bedecked by my sister-in-law. this year, far from new york and new jersey, my sweet mate stacked the chocolaty tower with architectural precision and not-often-seen tears in his eyes. it was a son’s salute to his bakery-born papa.photo 2photo

happy blessed birthday, dear AZK, among us always in heart — and in teetering chocolate.

what’s cobbled onto your list of thank yous this glorious day after the feast? 

special edition: love that colors outside the lines

boy with my heart

because this day of love just tiptoed in, and caught me breathless, i decided i need to post a love note today. to say thank you to all of you who have so lavished my heart — all our hearts — with so much tender hearted care. because you’ve illuminated otherwise shadowed nooks and crannies. because you’ve allowed this to be a carefully-curated corner of the world (cyber turned real) where what we practice is a love that colors outside the lines. that allows for the unorthodox. that sees no divisions, no divisions of hard-heartedness anyway. that invites the unfurling of our most tucked-away places, the places that are only just beginning to find a voice, a stammered whisper, as we put breath to words for the very first time. that ever ever holds up our hearts — our wobbly, not-so-certain, sometimes scared hearts — and declares, “you got this.”

because through the mysteries and miracles of time and wonder we’ve found our way to this place, this place we’ve carved out, like rivulets of stream to a river rock, it’s one place i’ve come to count on for sustenance of heart and soul. i put words out on the table. and, in holy communion, you lift them up, sift through, search for some nugget that speaks to you, and you in turn, in kind, lay down your wisdoms, your poetry, your bits and your snippets of radiance and grace. and by and by, we’ve got wisdom stew bubbling away. we’ve got love that colors outside the lines. we’ve got that little squeeze of the hand, of the shoulders, that chases away the cold. that propels us on. even on days when we’d otherwise crumble.

happy blessed day of uncanniest love. of all of us finding our way, here where love comes fierce and comes gentle, but always always washes over us, and bathes us in deepest-down holy.

ilove you heart

cradled

sunflowers

cradled (v.) hold something gently and protectively.

that’s the dictionary doing what it does: defining.

and then we come to the part i always love best, the underpinning of every word, its linguistic DNA, its etymology, its roots reaching back in time, across oceans, deep into the vault of centuries past. and here we read this (from my friends at the online etymology dictionary):

cradle (n.) “baby’s bed,” c.1200, cradel, from Old English cradol “little bed, cot,” from Proto-Germanic *kradulas “basket” (cognates: Old High German kratto, krezzo “basket,” German Krätze “basket carried on the back”). From late 14c. as “device for holding or hoisting.”

in the sixteenth century, circa 1500, the etymologists tell us, the noun slipped into its form as a verb, and that’s how i like it best. to be cradled. to cradle.

i was humming around in my head, coursing the bumps and the vales of my brain, in search of a word that means “what’s keeping me from wafting away.”

“grounded” didn’t work because it sounded like i’d been sent to the doghouse. “tethered” came close, but only if you pictured a space walker tied to a lifeline, the sort that NASA so solidly builds, a lifeline that allows for floating, drinking in the sights of the heavens. literally. “tethered,” if you pictured a leash, did not work.

and then, in that way that sometimes makes you feel there’s an angel plopped on your shoulder, leaning in, whispering words in your ear, suddenly, out of the vapors, “cradled” appeared. and all at once, i felt my shoulders go soft, in that exhale of a way. when you whoosh out your worries and cares, and all’s right with the world, as robert browning once put it (“song from pippa passes”).

and so i am — we are all — being cradled. each and every day. breathing or not. we are cradled in great tender arms that hold us. i particularly love the notion from the german Krätze, “basket carried on the back.” breathe that one in for a moment.

right in here — the past luscious whirling days — i’ve been feeling a wee bit lightheaded, and my heart’s been pounding so hard i worry, as i so often do, that it just might give up the ghost. so, as if my life depended on it this morning, i pulled myself out from under the sheets. and i tiptoed out to the holy cathedral just outside the kitchen door, the one that vaults to the heavens, the one that this morning was lit by a crescent of moon. looked to me, more than anything, like one big eye winking at me. God’s eye?

and all around me, the dawn’s soft cool blanket fluttered, as if on a clothesline. the cardinals, cloaked in scarlet as always, were up and chirping away — it’s fairly hard to beat a cardinal out of bed. the dew glistened. my toes took a bath when i tiptoed across the yard to fill the feeder with seed.

i stood there breathing. feeling the arms wrap around me. winking back at the moon. then, i looked to my old shingled house, melted at the buttery light of the kitchen, glowing. sighed a deep sigh of thanks for the house that never fails to keep me safe.

i stood there for a short little bit, unfurled my morning vespers, felt the soles of my feet sinking soft into the earth that holds us, always holds us. and then i puttered back toward the kitchen, where a lunch box awaited, and upstairs, a growing boy slept.

as i poured my first mug of coffee, i stopped to drink in a clutch of sunflowers that peeked from the old chipped milk pitcher. i thought of the blessed beautiful friend who had scooped up those wide-faced wonders from the farmer’s market. and then i climbed the stairs to wake the sleeping boy.

i pressed my cheek against his, longer than i usually do. i drank him in, my sweet sleeping child. and, as i’d been doing all morning, i leaned; this time, on him. i leaned on all of these wonders — winking moon, chattering bird, morning’s dew pearled, old blessed friend, and miracle child — and fortified myself for the hours to come.

i was cradled.

the cradle is there, always there. if we’re willing to climb to the basket strapped to the back — the glorious, heavenly back — that carries us, even on days when we’re dizzy.

what cradles you? as in what are the wonders that hold you gently, protectively? 

locked-in

patrick and mary jo

it all came rushing back to me this week. how, over the years and years, i’ve stumbled on the deepest meanings of this glory called life when i’ve had a notebook in my hands, a reporter’s notebook, and when that notebook served as front-line ticket to the most extraordinary unfoldings of human character. of life at its most unimaginable, and the human capacity to thread the needle, not merely survive but triumph. not merely endure but discover laughter. wipe away tears, hold trembling hands, feel my own soul up and catapulted. i’ve walked away a million times asking, “could i do that? could i be so brave? so profoundly capable of discovering the beautiful beneath the devastating?”

all week i’ve been immersed in reporting a story about a 20-year-old kid with locked-in syndrome. what that means, he says, is that it feels like — for the past three years, ever since an aneurysm in his brainstem ruptured during surgery — he’s “locked inside a freezer.”

what it means is that this kid, named patrick, the captain of his high school’s swimming and water polo teams, woke up in the early morning hours of 10-10-10 with a killer headache after his senior-year homecoming dance. and, somehow, he got dressed and made it to his mother’s bedside where he told her it was a 9 out of 10 on the pain scale, and they needed to get to the ER.

what it means is that that headache turned out to be a bulge in the artery that flowed blood into his brain; he’d had an earlier aneurysm — that’s what the bulge was — when he was 10. he’d had surgery back then, and except for a ban on “collision sports,” he’d gone on as ever. a red-haired eddie haskell of a kid, one who’d charm the pants off all the grownups in the room, but soon as no one was looking, launch one of the antics for which he remains legendary (the six moving violations he managed to accumulate on his first solo driving expedition; the time he locked his junior high teacher out of the classroom; the night he snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. to work out at the gym, ignoring the fact that his mother had forbidden it since he had a final exam that morning in a class he was just barely passing).

what it means is that 15 hours into the 22-hour brain surgery to repair the aneurysm, just after the surgeons had stepped away from the operating table to study an image on a screen, to try to figure out how to untangle this tangled mess, the darn thing blew, meaning it bled for 45 minutes into his brain stem — the control tower of the brain — and his lower brain.

what it means is that when patrick woke up from that life-or-death surgery, he was, as his father puts it, “in between,” a place no one had ever considered. it means he was wholly paralyzed except for the blink of his eyes, and the capacity to move his eyeballs up or down.

and within the week of his waking up, everyone realized he had full cognitive powers — even though he couldn’t utter a sound, or even swallow. he could still make you laugh, he still wielded his full armament of four-letter expletives, and eventually, he would be able to write 1,000-word college papers, some of them funny enough to take to the stand-up comedy stage (which his beloved nurse, mary jo, has done).

patrick is “locked-in,” a rare syndrome most poignantly and poetically described in the book, “the diving bell and the butterfly,” (also a movie of the same title) by jean-dominique bauby, who before he suffered a massive stroke in 1995 had been editor-in-chief of french elle, and who composed his memoir one blink at a time, the very same way patrick now communicates. using a color-coded “spell board,” in which the lines of the alphabet are arranged in five different-colored blocks, each beginning with a vowel, letters are recited until patrick shifts his left eye up, meaning “that’s the letter i want,” and the letter is recorded, a string of blinked spellings that make even a four-letter word an exercise in slow-mo determination.

anyway, that’s what i’ve been immersed in this week, and the thought that washes over me — as i consider that i have a boy the exact same age, who on 10-9-06 suffered a broken neck that by the grace of God did not leave him locked-in — is how blessed every tiny blessing is: the gift of getting out of bed, or brushing our teeth, and tiptoeing down the stairs into a waking-up kitchen. the gift of making a sound. the gift of taking a bite out of a sandwich.

i’m on deadline this morning writing the story of patrick and a filmmaker putting voice to his story, and someone i love just walked in to say she needed to talk, so i am suddenly utterly distracted, and my heart is pounding through my chest: i think i am about to remember all over again, what a blessing it is to be wholly alive….sometimes i have no notebook in hand when what matters most hits me.

spellboard

that’s patrick way up above, under the blanket, with his beloved and glorious nurse, mary jo, and the filmmaker. colleen, and yet another caregiver. and just above is the spell board, patrick’s sole link to utterance of any sort. here’s how it works: someone recites the colors, “red, blue, yellow, green, gold,” and when you get to the color of the line that holds the letter, patrick looks up; then you begin reciting the litany of alphabet letters in that particular line. again, when you hit the letter patrick wants you to add to the spelling-in-progress, he looks up. over and over it goes till the word, the sentence, the paragraph is spelled out

consider your blessings. every little one. that’s the profound simple message this week