pull up a chair

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

Tag: moving

comings and goings

dining room window

any minute now, the big rumbling moving van will lurch to the curb out front. a flock of muscled men will emerge, the ramp will be erected at a certain angle, and all day long a flurry of boxes and arms and legs and the contents of a life long lived will parade from house to deep dark truck interior, and back again for more.

by day’s end the house will be boxed into cardboard containers, slapped with tape, labeled. it will be hollowed of all but the fading echo of years spent raising boys, three boys, each now a father living far away, soccer cleats and bicycles long emptied from the garage. the tinkling of forks and knives, from all those family dinners, all those dinner parties, silenced. the flickering of candles i watched as recently as last night, snuffed out.

the next door neighbors, after forty-some years, are moving. and in the flow of life, the rhythm of comings and goings, each exit leaves a dent. a carved-out hole. a dimming and a darkness.

while, for the past 14 years, we’ve mostly flowed side-by-side, not been the sort of neighbors where we dash and ring the bell, borrow a cup of sugar here, a splash of merlot there, love grows anyway. the sight of him, bent and shuffling slowly in the yard, puttering with his tomato plants, stooping down to haul away a branch after storms have tossed the trees. the sound of her, warbling in the early morning, when the screens were in the windows, and the windows open, as she warmed her cords, her lungs, her voice, for the church choir, or the swing concert, or just the show tune of the hour. it will all be gone now. moved three miles north, out of sight and out of ear shot. hardly out of heart.

their presence, one i always likened to knowing someone sturdy was pressed against my shoulder, was most days felt when darkness came, and the lights in their kitchen, or the glassed-in study just beyond the picket fence, or those flickering candles at the dining room table, glowed golden against the twilight, against the cloak of night.

there’s a broad-winged window in our dining room, one i see out of the corner of my eye when i’m at the cookstove. i am often at the cookstove toward the end of day, at dinner time, at put-away-the-day time. and that soft burning light through the window panes, through the bramble of bushes, it whispered from next door: we’re home. life is flowing inside our house, too.

i admit to a lifelong imagination animated by the doings inside houses all along the lane, any lane anywhere. i spend time considering the animation of each and every house, of the hours and the duties that bind us, make us more in common than apart. even looking down from clouds, when i fly from here to there, i spy the little towns, especially, and see the lights inside the itty-bitty boxes of the houses, and i wonder who’s inside, who’s stirring sauce at the stove, who’s just getting a phone call that will change everything, who’s all alone.

with the house next door, i didn’t have to imagine too, too much. i knew the players. had come to love the players. over time, you learn things, peel back the stories, allow the bond to build — the new year’s ladies lunch she always hosted; the time we went together to the tracks, put down dollar bills on the horse he assured would win; the day we moved here nearly 14 years ago when she came to the door with a tinfoil-domed platter of the best chocolate chip cookies anyone ate that day, and she looked me in the eye, said, “i think we’ve a lot in common,” and it would be awhile till i realized what she meant was that she, too, was irish catholic, married long ago to a brilliant jewish fellow; they’d trod this interfaith path long before i’d even met the man i would love and marry.

she told me, after years of back and forth at the invisible line that divides our yards out back, about the time her little brother ran in front of the car, and died. right before her eyes. she told me how she up and packed three boys, left behind the house she loved, and moved to england for a time, when her husband was a rising executive and the boss said, “move!”

over time, you learn the heart aches, divine the heroism, the everyday grit that muscles some of us forward, that some days topples others of us. over time, you come to count on the quiet rhythms from the house next door. you learn their ways. how, as soon as the air outside warms to, oh, 78, the air conditioners will begin to hum. and how, come sunday morning, the singer’s warmups will punctuate the chatter of the birds.

over time, their story seeps into yours. you’ve watched her boys come home on weekends to mow the lawn, you’ve watched them marry, and just last night you watched her youngest rock his newborn baby girl to sleep.

life passes while we’re watching. which is why it matters so very much to keep close watch. which is why the practice of paying attention brings riches — and countless wisdoms — to our soul. which is how and why we fall in love, day after day, with those who fill our hours with the hum of their every day.

when we’re watching closely, we get peeks at the human spirit exposed. even when it’s by simple accident of geography that we’re entwined through the light and shadow cast on all the passing hours. when what’s drawn us into each other’s close orbit is the single-digit difference in the address that we call home.

until the big van comes, and we’re left looking into darkness next door.

what are the quiet rhythms of your everyday that you’ve come to count on? who are the ones whose lives have slowly softly seeped into yours, by virtue of geography or habit, the ones whose lives you know through occasional encounters rather than uninterrupted unspoolings, whose presence over time adds up to someone you count on in your own quiet way? what peeks at heroism have you gleaned from those who pass you by on a regular basis? 

and mickey and alicia, we send you off with love. much love….


the year of magical living

it’s not even started yet, but already serendipity keeps tapping me on the shoulder, and as i turn my head swiftly to see who’s there, i discover a bright and buoyant sprite hovering behind me. it’s as if she’s cooing in my ear, soothing me with the words, “it’ll be all right.”

up and moving does not come easily to nesty girls, girls like me, girls with roots like wild fennel, that twisty-turny underground extension that nearly requires a crowbar to expunge it from the garden.

up and moving is not on my list of things i’d do on any old unscheduled monday.

no, not at all.

but here’s the thing that keeps giving me goosebumps: our adventure to cambridge, massachusetts, seems to be enchanted.

the uncanniest bits of magic keep darting into the cobbled lane, standing in my path, shouting, “look at me, you can’t deny me. who says you’re too old for make-believe and happily ever afters?”

it seems that there are life lessons here, ones worth mining, ones to hold up to the sunlight, to examine from every which way.

long, long ago in the depths of winter, once i’d talked my way through the self-imposed hurdles and barricades, the ones that tried to keep me back, the 101 reasons why staying put made much more sense than up and moving in the middle of my family’s merry life, why it seems the heavens took their cue, opened wide and showered down on me what, so far, seems a fairy-dusted parade.

there’s the third-floor aerie i’ve described in a meandering at the start of summer. and more than that — so much more — there’s the fellow you might technically call my landlord, though i now think of him as something of a life beacon, a spiritual guide, a friend.

why, just last night he sent a final email from his cambridge study, telling me how he’d transformed his college daughter’s bedroom into a room fit for an 11-year-old sports fanatic boy. he called it a “sports den,” went on to note that he’d erected bunk beds, found a bulletin board and hung it over the desk. he cleared shelves for the trophies that are sure to be accumulated (these days, at least in these parts, sports teams dish out trophies for the simple act of showing up….). he even bought and washed a set of twin sheets in a color he chose after careful consideration. he didn’t want my little guy sleeping on girl-colored sheets or store-starched ones straight out of the package; he wanted comfort for the sportster, and he stopped at nothing, bless his bountiful heart.

he’s left me a whole study filled with poetry tomes and texts. the sacred music shelf awaits, arranged in chronological order, no less (i’d best not mix up my medievals and my renaissance chants). and he’s written out directions to the monastery two blocks away, and the one farther down the shore where he tells me i can rent a hermitage for a $60 donation, and expect three meals with all that quiet.

here we pause for that holy exclamation, the one we shout at all our passover seders, “dayenu!” meaning, as if that’s not plenty enough….

ah, but there is more.

and the latest serendipitous installment is pictured up above. that charming house, the one with window frames in blue and red and yellow, the one with at least one parrot perched in a window, well it’s just down the lane from where we’ll be roosting, and i was so enchanted by its paintbox whimsy as i strolled past that first fine sunday morning when we sealed the deal on the aerie, i snapped its picture. i couldn’t help it. it just called out to me, and even if i only tucked it in my pocket in digital pixels, i could not leave it behind.

turns out i just spoke to the lovely woman who lives there, and it’s the very place where we’ll likely be parking our four wheels. we’d been searching high and low for lots or garages — civic, public, paved or unpaved, didn’t matter — and through the most circuitous, serendipitous of circumstances, i found myself just this morning on the phone with the owner of that storybook cottage, and as might be expected her voice is one that might lull you into a soft and feathered state of contentment.

now how could it be — other than pure stardust and moonbeams — that the one house in all of cambridge that i could not pass without clicking a snapshot is the one house where i’ll soon get to pull into the gravel drive, perhaps exchange a morning’s greeting, or a basket of muffins, with the dear dear soul who lives there?

and so, as i continue on with the steady work of packing up our clothes and a little boy’s essentials, as i feel the tug and pull of saying goodbye to friends and a house and a garden and a mother who i’ll miss each and every day, i keep my ear tuned to the whispers that keep coming from the east: i’m convinced that it’s the beckoning of sprites and angels, and they’re drawing me to someplace magical, to a year of deep enchantments and truths to last a whole life long.

all that’s left to do is play along….

dear chair friends, as i type these keystrokes, our beloved HH is being wheeled into surgery. hold her in your prayers. hold her, hold her…..she did not escape the fear that nearly leveled me. it’s her second round with breast cancer, and while the prognosis is great and good, a mastectomy is no woman’s first choice. dear God, hold her and all her hopes and dreams. 

and while we’re at it, please watch over my beloved landlords as they drive from massachusetts to new mexico, for the first chapter of their new adventure. the aerie is emptied out now, for a short spell. we’ll be the next ones who lay our sleepy heads on its pillows, who open wide the doors, fill the bird feeders, listen to the sacred chants. after we pull our shiny car into the slot at the paintbox house of serendipity and charm, and yet another new friend…

what serendipities have leapt upon your cobbled path of late??

apartment hunting and the hurdle of the three-dot plates

in all the years that we’ve been pulling up chairs, it’s become more than cloudy clear, i’m certain, that i tend to be a nesty girl, a girl who sinks her roots down deep, and doesn’t yank them lightly.

so bear with me while i tell you the tale of why it is i am apartment hunting nowadays, and what in the world three-dot plates have to do with that far-flung adventure.

i suppose the time has come, at last, to let you all in on what had been a secret, but now is seeping out, so it’s not a secret anymore. (i can imagine the pounding in your hearts as you worry where this is going; fear not, no need for worries.)

but let’s begin at the beginning, where most stories do begin, and turn the clock back to a dark december day.

there i was sitting at my typing pad in the newspaper tower, when i heard a ping ring out from the box that was my desk-top computer. i clicked and looked and saw there a missive from my lawful wedded mate.

seems he’d gotten a little email from some folks at a university in cambridge, massachusetts. they were asking him to apply for a fellowship, a journalism fellowship, one that gathers 24 fellows from around the globe, and one that would entail a one-year stint, thus lifting our whole little family out of our cozy chicago life and plopping us onto an unmapped one in cambridge.

kind fellow, decent fellow, my mate, he wrote back right away to say that he was deeply flattered but no thanks; we have a little fellow, a fifth-grade fellow, he explained, who could not be yanked from his life.

as a mere afterthought, this man i married, he sent this all along to me so i could smile and carry on with my otherwise ordinary day. or at least that’s what he thought i’d do.

but i did not.

i shot right back, “whoa, hold your horses there, buster. at least stop and think about it,” i implored. “is this not the manna from heaven that we’ve been praying for? peering skyward day after day, in search of sign of falling crumb?

“let’s at least ask the little guy, see what he has to say,” i begged, all but dropping to my knees.

and so we did: that night at dinner, we asked the 10-year-old lad what he’d think about moving away for just one year, moving, say, to massachusetts, so daddy and mommy might go back to college?

why, that brave old soul, he did not blink, nor flinch. he piped right up: “sounds great. i want to see the world.”

we explained every which way that this would mean he would not be here for sixth grade, nor for soccer on the team he loves, nor for spring baseball, nor friday night skate, his highlight of so many weeks.

no matter what we pitched his way, he batted it all away, stood fast to his determination that it was time to see the world.

so, as i scrubbed the dirty plates that night, it was my turn to come up with excuses why we shouldn’t leave. i wasted no time ticking off a long list of things i could not bear to leave behind: my three-dot plates, for instance. i’ve only four sets, and only scored them after tracking them down at a resale shop, after pining for them for 20 years. they’d been the plates i wanted back when we were getting married, but the architecture critic who would be my mate thought the dots got in the way. in the way of what, i’ve never quite determined. but the dotted plates went the way of the rose-covered bedsheets i’d once admired. one makes compromise when living with a design-steeped fellow, and i long ago realized our peaceful co-existence depended on my occasional surrender to his whims. so these plates, procured a full two decades post betrothal, they are the plates i pluck from the stack whene’er i need a ceramic boost.

and somehow, in that odd way my mind stumbles along, they came to represent the dividing line between the world i’d leave behind, and the one i just might dive into. what if they were cracked and broken while we were away? what if, whilst i was off in pilgrim land, they were accidentally expunged from the cupboard, and, upon return, i’d find myself without the proper spotted saucer to uphold my breakfast toast?

for more than a day or two, i weighed the choices here: go to harvard, play like a pig in mud, taking any class i could stuff into my braincells; or stay here in chicago, in the house i know and love, and eat off three-dot plates till the end of time.

in due time, i realized i was, frankly, an idiot to be debating such obstacles.

i surrendered to the adventure of it all, and cannot over-emphasize how that deep-down sense of grab-it-now-it-might-not-come-again has come to permeate, well, just about everything.

ever since, i’ve been living my days as if each one is a bit of a hallelujah christmas gift, a box wrapped up in shiny paper, with pretty bow and all.

it was, in fact, the rocket-booster oomph behind my thinking it was time to leave behind the newspaper life i had long loved. and right in here, with may and june and summertime swirling deliciously around us, it’s what propels me not to mind spending hours at the kitchen table, or perched on chairs outside, in the dappled light of the pine trees, chewing over a thousand ideas and stories with my college boy, now home for endless days and nights of sweetest-ever summer.

we had no idea, of course, whether embracing the adventure would lead to any sort of happy ending. had no idea, once the long and layered application was turned in, shipped off cambridge way, whether the deciding folks would pick the home-team architecture critic, slot him in the nieman class of journalism fellows for the school year 2012-2013. but, indeed, they did. he is the arts and culture fellow.

so here we are. poring over real estate ads, dialing up massachusetts realtors, searching high and low for a two-bedroom apartment in ZIP code 02138 or 02139. and before we’ve found a place to lay our sleepy heads, we’ve taken care of business and secured a slot on a cambridge soccer team for our little goalie. priorities, after all.

as for this old house we love, we have a beloved friend who will move in, hold down the fort here, watch over the three-dot plates, and the red-and-white checked chair, and the window seat i’ll miss.

and for one extraordinary year, i’ve come to deeply realize, i will make a new nest. i will come to know the rhythms of a new city, an extraordinary city, a city where i have always, always wanted to live. i will sit in classrooms, and stuff my brain with poetry and writing and divinity, and some of america’s great professors. i will tiptoe into the widener library, and deep breathe. i will walk home down cobbled streets, absorb the cacophony of a learned city.

and a week from today, we will board a plane, all four of us in our little adventure troupe, and we will pound the sidewalks, ring doorbells, and peek in cupboards and bathrooms till we find the place that we’ll call home for the next sweet year.

and maybe while away in far-off cambridge, i will stumble into yet another thrift shop, and lying there in stacks, i’ll spy a three-dot plate.

and i will know, through and through, that home is wherever you set the table. pull up a chair. and share your heartfelt stories.

so that’s the news of the week, and, fear not, you’ll all amble along with us on this fine adventure, as the chair will go on, and i’ll impart every week the finest things i’ve learned in all my college lecture halls. congratulations, we’re all going back to college. 

p.s. next week’s trek is merely the apartment-hunting expedition. we don’t pack the wagons and head east till round about early august….