pull up a chair

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

Tag: finding joy

bequest

IMG_7898

bequest n. a legacy bequeathed to someone. 

she bequeathed me a legacy so profound it leaves me breathless, makes my heart pound, and my knees go weak. i’ve yet to cradle it, and carry it home, but yesterday, in a hot apartment that was only sparsely appointed with the artifacts and books she’d spent a lifetime gathering, rooms that stand witness to the dismantling of a life cut short, too short, i sat down with her brother and began to discover a wisp of what awaits my careful curation, my distilling of her wisdom, what will be — i hope and pray — her triumphant valedictory in the form of the book she’d always hoped to write.

she left me, according to the language in her will, her “creative work,” and with it, the sobering responsibility, the hope, to “do her proud,” as my own mama would put it, as my mama did put it, the day my own father was buried and my mother whispered her instruction to their five children huddled at the door, about to step outside and into the long black limousine the funeral home had sent. “do him proud” were the instructions then, to the five children left fatherless and far too young to make much sense of the enormity of the loss. they’re words that have long instructed me, and they instruct me once again: “do her proud.”

we began, my friend’s brother and i, by clicking to her photo album, and there we found the very last photo she had taken, just before she surrendered to the hospital, and, after that, the few short days when she absorbed the unthinkable, that she was dying and would die within the week.

the very last picture, the last time she clicked her camera, was to take a picture of the words you see above, words that read:

“i’m beginning to realise that real happiness isn’t something large and looming on the horizon ahead but something small, numerous and already here. the smile of someone you love. a decent breakfast. the warm sunset. your little everyday joys all lined up in a row.” — beau taplin

i simply stared at first, the intimacy of the moment washing over me.

here i was peeking in on the solitude of her final hours at home, when she was pulled up to her desk, or propped against the pillows on her couch, poring over the internet for words that captured what she knew, what she’d learned and what she’d come to deeply believe. and here, on this one brick wall of wisdom, she’d stopped, pulled out her camera, and clicked. i can’t imagine she imagined it would be only months later when her final frame would be stumbled upon, its every word, one by one, discovered and absorbed. i can’t imagine she imagined that we’d inhale its every breath, its every syllable, as if words — instruction — from beyond.

but that’s what we did.

i read it once, then twice, then i quietly asked her brother if i could take a picture of my friend’s last picture. “of course,” he said.

it will be like this, for weeks and months. maybe even years. i will soon have banker’s boxes filled with her journals, her notes and scribblings. i will have every essay she ever typed and saved. i will retrace the topography of her mind, and travel deeply into her soul. or at least i will find some refracted angle of that soul.

i will extract that which matters most. i will be informed all along the way by an uncanny, unspoken instruction. i will follow as closely as imaginable what i discern is the course she’s laid out for me, for all of us. i know that in her final years she was hellbent on discovering and dispensing the purest path to love, to joy. “a diviner of joy,” were the words that tumbled from my fingers to the screen — my description of her and her life’s work — in the obituary i wrote, at her request, just after she had died.

it would be weeks later till i found out that, in her last will and testament, she’d bequeathed to me that very task: to be the diviner of what she’d found to be the path to joy. to inherit her life’s written work, to pore through it, to extract the shimmering shards of truth and beauty, the ones that will not die. the ones that must be given sunlight and breeze, and lined up, page upon page, for all of us who wonder where to go to find the joy, the peace, the love that we — all of us — so deeply seek.

this morning, once again, the world is weeping. and my task with my dear friend’s truth is more urgent than ever. there is work to do. so much work. and, soon, mine will begin in the stacks and files and boxes and computer that must hold the truth buried deep inside.

bless you, mary ellen, for this gift. i promise here to do you proud, to unearth all that you so carefully laid out for us to find. bless your soul. and thank you.

what’s your path to joy?

this nook i’ve come to call home

nook i've come to lovedispatch from 02139 (in which, after 192 days, it makes me wince to think of leaving….)

really, i think, i’m part squirrel. or maybe fat-cheeked chipmunk. certainly from the mammalian order Rodentia. i know, i know. it’s not a pretty picture. those furry little critters that make so many yelp. leap high on stools. lurch for brooms.

but really.

i do exhibit many squirrel-like tendencies. i burrow. i conform whole-bodily to my confines. i’ve been known to overstuff my pantry with twos and threes of things i love — just in case! a squirrel does too. only they call it hoarding. stocking up for winter. i call it making sure i don’t have to dash to the grocery in the wee wee hours, when suddenly an urge for popcorn strikes (see! yet another link between me and the bushy-tailed kernel-loving kind!).

mostly, though, it’s about the burrowing. about boring in, carving tunnels in my cove. making cozy. is not the squirrel the queen of cozy comfy? heck, if you can make the insides of an old oak’s trunk the very place where you can’t wait to scurry at the end of a long day hauling acorns, you are one fine cozy-maker.

and so it is, here in the aerie. where 192 days into this experiment in third-floor living, i can barely consider packing up and leaving without scrunching up my countenance.

i’ve come to love this little place. love the pit-a-pat of soles against the shining planks of maple. love the sunshine streaming in by day, and the moonlight every cloudless night. love the sounds of the city down below, tucked away, not far from harvard square, where just now cardinal and blue jay are out the window carrying on a discourse above the din of all the thinkers strolling by.

i am particularly fond of this little breakfast nook, all bench and cushions, with steam heat pouring up from down below my bum. how fine a configuration is that? to have your undersides steamed like chinese buns?

i sit here by the hour, especially at the dawn. my earthen mug filled high. the morning birds flitting in for a nibble at the feeder. this morning it is particularly quiet. and quiet is a sound i love more than most. so hushed i hear the water drip-drip-dripping from the sink. every once in a while, the gurgle from the french-roast trough. the hum from the fridge.

i leap out of bed before the clock chimes “time to wake,” just so i can steal a few extra minutes — all alone, in cloak of morning light, before the rush begins.

and i can’t help but marvel at the human capacity for burrowing down to joy. for shirking off the parts that make us squirm. for honing in on finding where our hum comes. where comfort rises up, wraps round us, holds us tight.

we are a species — we and our bushy-tailed brethren, yes — who can’t help but toil toward equilibrium. and, hardly content to idle in the neutral zone, we burrow deeper still, down to where the glories bubble up. we find our hum, indeed.

all this from a girl who, just a year ago, was dizzy at the thought of leaving a place that had carved her in the palm of its hand. all this from a girl who 192 mornings ago was clicking snapshots of the old house she was leaving behind, as if she’d not breathe again till she returned. and here i am, humming. knowing my well-worn footpaths in the maple planks. having carved a whole new routine. morning coffee, followed by reading, followed by catching glimpse of sunrise, followed by clomp-clomp-clomp along the cobbled sidewalks, drawing me into lecture halls and classrooms where i nearly purr with pure contentment.

we adapt.

we find joy.

it’s what, as a species, we are wired to do.

i write this because i never cease to be amazed. at this capacity for comfort. at making home wherever we are plopped.

i write this because a friend i love — nay, adore — stands at the brink of just such a translocation. and she is trembling. wondering what she’s doing to her family, up and hauling them across the country, to a faraway place that right now feels oh-so foreign.

i write this because i was that trembling soul. but a wee small voice inside propelled me. whispered louder than all the others: don’t be afraid. just go!

and so, for all these days and weeks and months, we’ve been living the experiment. (and here’s the part where the hallelujahs come, rise up and bring on tears…) i’ve watched my boy become best friends with a kid who can’t afford the hot cocoa in the cafeteria. i’ve heard stories that might make your hairs stand on end. but he takes them in stride because he loves the kid who tells the stories, true stories from a life that’s short on lucky breaks. and i can’t help but know that to have your eyes wide-opened when you’re 11, when you’re smack dab in middle school, is to keep those eyes forever scanning the landscape in whole new ways.

that sweet boy will not go back to our leafy little village taking it for granted, taking anything for granted (so help me, Lord on high). he will not forget his friend who has to step over the drug-dealing in the staircase. or the other stories i can’t tell here.  he will remember how much he loved the street ball in the gym. how the big towering kids loved the scrappy little white boy, my boy. and how he woke up and realized he was truly color blind. and more than comfortable in a united nations classroom.

i write this because i live and breathe contentment these days. pure joy is an hourly intoxicant.

and i wouldn’t have gotten here if i’d let the demons hold me down.

i promise you, my friend, you will purr again. your babies will stretch and pull and some nights, at bedtime, break down in floods of tears. but the morning will come when you are all gathered round the breakfast table, and laughter will rise up. and you’ll all feel oh so deeply home. and you’ll look around at all the wonders that have come your way, and you won’t want to imagine what it would have been like to not know such particular life-defining joys.

i promise you, my friend. we’ve all got a dose of squirrel somewhere down inside.

what are the little joys that make for comfort zones in your long day?