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Tag: savoring time

we all leap…

cosmograph

wrestling time seems to have preoccupied the human species since the dawn of, well, time. time itself ceaselessly flows. the heavens, though, mark it with sun and moon, light and shadow. we, scribblers that we are, we draw lines on pages, make them into little boxes, count them one by one. it’s a russian doll of time boxed. we have boxes in all sizes: millennia, century, year, month, day, and of late (in the scope of human history, that is) we have day-minders that make itty-bitty boxes, one for each hour or quarter hour, depending on your busyness. one box slips inside another. we now know at-a-glance just how booked our tomorrows will be.

hipparchus.

hipparchus

all this time wrestling long ago left the mathematicians and sky gazers with a little bit of a problem. a leftover, in fact. or in second-grade subtraction lingo, a remainder. once wise folk like hipparchus, considered the greatest astronomer of antiquity, started squinting toward the sun, hauling out their rudimentary measuring sticks, they mapped some sense of the heavens. hipparchus, the fellow who gave us trigonometry (something you might or might not celebrate), is the one who first pinned time to the revolutions of the sun, to the dance of planet earth in tango with the biggest star. he’s the one who must have whooped, aha! when he calculated the time it takes for one spin around the sun. and here’s the rub: it takes 365 days and 6 hours to make the round-about. that pesky leftover is what brings us to tomorrow — february 29 (a date pulled from the special-reserve shelf).

if you’re going to put time in a box (or a whole calendar of boxes) what shall you do with that quarter of a day left behind? well, said the wise sky scribes of long ago, let us bundle those quarter days into a single package, one that rolls around every four years. (it gets even trickier for us, and for those ancient numbers dudes, once hipparchus pointed out the pesky little fact that their bundling left yet another remainder: every four years, there’s an extra 44 minutes, or three days every 400 years (as ever, it’s the leftovers that all but foil us). so, geniuses that they were, they once again did their math and this time reached for subtraction, deciding that those years divisible by 100 only get a leap day if they’re also divisible by 400. (meaning 1600, 2000, 2400 are leap years, but 1700, 1800, 1900 got gypped.) (and further proving that you can bend rules to do just about anything you so desire.)

so, basically, we should all bow down to long-ago hipparchus for this construct of the leap day. theoretically, it’s the mathematical solution to the boxing-up of time. but for us seekers of the deeper truths, it begs a russian doll of questions, all pivoting on one essential one: if you were handed a gift box of time, if hours were added to the measure of your life, how might you squeeze the holiest holiness from those ticking seconds, minutes, hours? how might you make it most count?

one of the mystical truths of time is that often we get our clearest vision of the gift when it’s taken away, or so threatened. have you ever held your breath waiting for results of a scan? have you paced the halls outside doors marked “surgery: do not enter,” waiting for word of what was found? have you watched the clock move glacially as you await the phone call that’s not coming? have you begged for one more yesterday, most emphatically with someone loved and lost?

what tumbles through our whole self is the begging sense that if only we could have one more day, a few more hours, we’d do this and this and this. say these words we’ve left unsaid. i heard joe biden, someone who knows volumes about loss, say not so long ago that the truth is that in the end cancer patients aren’t asking for years and years, their pleas boil down to “doc, can i make it till the baby comes?” “can i watch her walk down the aisle?” “maybe make it one more christmas?” it’s chiseled to the precipice of the humblest increments of time, of possibility counted out in minutes.

so what will we do with our so-called extra tomorrow? isn’t this our once-a-quatrain chance to practice sacramental time? to lift up each hour, to hold it to the holy light, infuse it with intentionality (that modern-day queazy term for “paying attention,” as ancient a sacred practice as ever there was).

imagine you are handed a basketful of time. as you unwrap each and every hour, each section of an hour, how will you choose to live it to its most abundant fullness?

that’s the question. contemplate your blessings…and, soon enough, it’ll be time to take the holy leap.

sun

the question above–how will you make the very most of the gift of tomorrow, or today, for that matter–is the question i leave here on this morning’s table….

mapping the sun hipparchus(p.s. the image at the tippy-top here is the cover of william cunningham’s 1559 Cosmographicall Glasse, a compendium of engravings of the known principles (at the time) of cosmography, geography, navigation….among the details is his engraving of hipparchus scoping the sun…)

 

we always pause for seaweed: on savoring a day, another year

seaweed salad

maybe it’s because he’s about to leave. maybe it’s because the moving van is scheduled, the boxes piling in a room upstairs.

maybe, though, it’s simply that he wanted to be here, to be among us. an arc of days stitched with all those things he loves.

and so we paused. turned off all the things that ping and beep. clipped roses from the garden. tucked stems in vases. made cards, wrote letters. awaited word from inbound trains.

the birthday boy was coming home, and we were slowing time. we were holding up the hours, sinking deep into the pure and simple gift of being side-by-side.

love is like that. love needs little embellishment. time — hours upon hours stacked together, in one fell swoop — that’s plenty. that’s priceless.

once or twice i heard a whisper from somewhere just beyond my shoulder, or deep inside my head: “he’s turning 24, for heaven’s sake. the clock on this has well run out.” but then i heard another voice, the voice of my heart, and i surrendered. wholly. that voice is the one that will always, always win for me. it said: “doesn’t matter to me how old he is. savoring the day with him will always be the dearest gift of my whole life.”

and so it was. i plucked him from the train, we grabbed a sack of sushi and seaweed salad. always seaweed salad on the first full day of summer, because long ago, in 1993, on the eve of his birth, an obstetrician i loved determined that seaweed applied in particular ways precipitated labor. got things opening, as it were.

we’ve celebrated seaweed ever since.

birthday eve dinner

birthday eve seaweed + sushi

we must have sat for hours at that after-soccer feast, night before last. i know the moon and stars were out before we got up from the table, before we moved deeper into birthday countdown.

there is nothing so fine as falling asleep in a house where every bed is filled. where the sounds of doors closing, sheets being thrown off, odd faucets shushing in unfamiliar rhythms, is lullaby to sleep.

nor is there much finer than tiptoeing down the stairs in the morning, setting the birthday table. opening cards and letters that make you weep as one brother tells the other that he will always be his hero. you can hear the clock ticking toward the day the birthday boy moves away. and so, you hold time, you hold all that fills these hours, as fully and preciously as you know how. you glide through a day savoring. sinking wholly into what’s before you, all around you. you know that soon the distance once again will come. the miles and miles between you. the necessity of phone line. the certainty that law school and life will make these sorts of days just that much more out of reach.

by nightfall, savoring had pulled me in so deeply that i was on a stool reaching to a shelf in the hall closet. i hauled down the old, old, vintage video recorder. i started popping in old tapes. i was mesmerized. i watched my firstborn on his first birthday, not yet walking, barely saying words. i watched my firstborn on his second birthday, all skinny legs and long arms, reaching for a train. calling the train by name. informing all who listened — and we all always listened, believe me — all there was to know about each and every train.

willie yawntalk about binge watching. i could play and replay those tapes from now till law school graduation, i suppose. i ached that i hadn’t been a more committed recorder of the hours. wished i’d spent even one slice of time silently positioning the lens on one ordinary day in the life of that blessed child — not simply the cacophony of a birthday celebration, when so much noise got in the way. wishing perhaps that i could leap back in time, live it once again. inhale more wholly this time the miracle of being mother to this blessed child, who has taken my breath away since the day he was born. and who now, on the cusp of his departure, his moving east, 1,000 miles from where i spend my days, still takes my breath away, still puts the pit-a-pat in my heart that once beat in time with his.

willie shoulder

love you, beautiful will. bless you, today, tomorrow, ever…

an unabashed love note to be sure. i will never run out of words, trying to capture this particular love. it’s the moment that struck me most this week. he leaves any hour now, to catch a train to new mexico, then a plane to martha’s vineyard, then we will all pile in the red wagon and follow the moving van to connecticut, where he’ll move in to his new address. and we’ll drive home, just the three of us, leaving him behind to absorb the law. i’m thinking this move out east will be the one from which there’ll never be a return to the heartland. we’ve trod this ground before, when he went off to college, and i had to learn long-distance. i will do so again. and maybe some day, we’ll be the ones who move — closer to his every day, and the every day of his little brother. i know plenty of you live far from the ones you love. i know distance isn’t measured only in miles. and i’m blessed (beyond measure) that there is no distance in our hearts. 

and with seaweed salad in mind, what are the quirky ways you mark birthdays at your house? 

 

hummingbird wisdom, continued

h-bird-6

six months ago, my dear and longtime friend mary ellen sullivan died. she was a writer, a chronicler of joy, i called her when i sat down to write her obituary, trying to distill her essence into a few short sentences and paragraphs that swept across the arc of a life too short. a month or so after she died, i found out she’d written me into her will, appointed me the keeper of her “creative work.” it’s a mantle i accept with heavy heart. a week ago, on a hot august afternoon, i met her brother in her emptied-out apartment, and he handed me boxes and boxes and boxes, her creative work, in all its iterations. it was perhaps the heaviest load of papers i’ve ever tried to lift. i didn’t wait long to open the lid of one of the boxes, to lift pages, to begin to read, to inhale the story of a life i knew well, a story told this time in mary ellen’s own words. i all but felt her beside me, or sitting across the table. i knew the intonations, the emphases of every single sentence. i knew she’d tiptoe into my dreams. i knew she’d left wisdom that i was to unearth, to not let die along with her.

night after night, i pulled up to the kitchen table, not far from the screen door, where the breeze blew in, not far from the night sounds, the buzzsaw of cicada, the chirp of the crickets. i’d pile a stack of journals and notebooks and paper-clipped papers to my left, papers lifted from the boxes that waited in the dark of another room, the load of mary ellen’s boxes.

it was, i tell you, like sitting down with a dear friend, pulling in close enough to brush knees against knees. it was as if i’d said, “so tell me your story,” and thus she began, in whispers. i’d known these chapters in real time, and here i was, reading, hearing the whole of it in details sometimes so intimate i closed the book and tucked it aside. i promise you my tender heart is guiding me through what’s mine to shepherd to light, and what’s best tucked away.

i read page after page from the writing classes she’d take, from the book about africa she’d long hoped to write, to publish.

and then i picked up this: two stapled pages, curled and yellowed at the edges, typed in a font from computers of long ago, early HP perhaps. i read the first sentence, and started to tremble. i had a hard time reading through tears, but this is what i began to read…

“If I were to die in five minutes, I would miss sleeping, and the warm wood of my apartment floor. I would miss talking to Barbie on the phone on Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee in my hands. I would miss running errands in the neighborhood and going for long hard runs after work when the air is clean and cool and gives you the shivers when your sweat starts to dry. I would miss the ocean most of all. Any ocean, any beach. The feel of wet sand between my toes and the waves breaking over my body and the sand going from warm to cool in the early evening when the sun starts to set and everyone but me and my family leave the beach and we just sit there and talk and read and watch the sand turn purple and the water a deep blue and the sky orange and very beautiful. I will miss running in the water and splashing so much that you might as well go swimming so you do.

“I’ll miss kissing a man for the first time…..”

and then, i tell you, i could barely read, the tears were falling so hard, so fast. (they are now, truth be told….) so i waited, and breathed, and wiped away the tears, and i looked back at the page, the page trembling in my hands by then, and i read the litany of things my friend would miss, if she were to die in five minutes, five minutes from the moment she wrote all those words. in fact, she died on march 13, 2016, far sooner than she’d ever imagined. she never thought the ovarian cancer would kill her. she fully intended to vanquish the cancer. to become someone who had had cancer.

but my friend who died, who wrote this litany in a writing class, an exercise titled, “death is the name,” who wrote this thinking death was the last thing that would ever happen to her (yes, i see the unintended word play, and i’m ignoring it), whose words i now inhaled half a year after she had died, she wrote that she’d miss her down comforter, and staying up late by herself and “the freedom the night gives.” she wrote that she’d miss the first taste of an expensive dinner, and the last gritty drop of a bottle of red wine. she wrote that she’d miss hot baths and getting lost in paperbacks.

her sentences grew more and more beautiful, the deeper she sank into the exercise, wrapping herself in the velvet cloak of worldly magnificence.

i was struck, hard and deep, by the simplicity of the litany. the depth and dimension of each pulsing joy, now taken away.

she made me think hard about how our lives are stitched of thin but mighty threads, glimmering delicate threads, threads we’d be wise to notice, to run our fingers across, again and again, for they’re what’s woven into the beautiful whole.

our lives, she made me realize once again, are a textured tapestry of heartache and joy, of blessing and softness and shadow and light, of everyday wonders that awake us to the moment, so the moments slow to a pause, so we behold each blessed minute of our awareness, our awakeness, so each hour is relished for the gift that it is. so not an hour goes by unnoticed.

“if i were to die in five minutes,” she wrote. and i read those words six months after she did. and thus, each word came to me as if shouted through a megaphone: be awake. pay attention. savor the blessed, the beautiful.

the warmth of the mug you hold in your palms? notice it. bless it. you’ll so miss it when it’s gone, when you’re gone.

a question and a challenge: what would you miss, what blessing upon blessing across the quotidian arc of your day? make a list, compile your litany. and then, pay closest attention today. and tomorrow. and the day after. my friend mary ellen would love you for that.

i titled this “hummingbird wisdom, continued,” because my friend mary ellen was all about the hummingbird. she wrote a blog called, on the wings of the hummingbird. and she once wrote these words explaining her captivation with the hover-winged bird:

“My favorite description of the hummingbird magic comes from Ted Andrews, who wrote the seminal book on animal totems called ‘Animal Speak.’ He says, ‘There is something inside the soul of all of us that wants to soar through sunbeams, then dance midair in a delicate mist, then take a simple bath on a leaf. There is something in our souls that wants to hover at beautiful moments in our lives, making them freeze in time. There is something in us that wants to fly backwards and savor once more the beautiful past. Some of us are just hummingbird people.’

“Guilty as charged.” — Mary Ellen Sullivan, May 30, 2012

“can we have a day?”

DSCF1005

hand-in-hand with my firstborn

 

willie and bam making willie brussels sprouts ala christmas 2014

side-by-side with my firstborn, all grown.

if i sound insistent, urgent, imperative today, it’s because i am. 

it couldn’t have come at a more ordinary moment. we’d been motoring about the utilitarian landscape, the backroads of suburbia, past big old houses, and strip malls, threading our way through the tangle of morning rush hour. the other car was in the shop, so i was the designated deliverer. i’d dropped one child at the schoolhouse door, the other was about to dive into a day at the courthouse, where he works twice a week, defending the otherwise undefended. i’d just mentioned that i really didn’t mind driving all over creation. didn’t mind the banal scenes out the window. didn’t mind the cold coffee tucked in the holder beside me.

we’d been laughing since the older one leapt into the car — minutes later than we needed to leave, socks not yet on his feet, his coffee cup sloshing. we’d thought we’d be late, as in the little one marked “tardy.” and for a minute there, we were cranky. or at least i was. but then the sockless one got going, got us laughing. the little one practically spit out his oatmeal, he was laughing so hard.

and so it had been for 25 minutes or so. pure straight driving and laughing, and trying not to spit out mouthfuls of oatmeal.

all i’d said was i didn’t mind driving one bit. didn’t mind clocking a good ten miles in a sliver of time when i could have been curled up with coffee and the morning’s news.

and that’s when my firstborn chimed in: “could we have a day when the two of us just bop around all day? a whole day? we just get in the car and go where we go?”

the sentence shot through the air sealed in that car. shot straight from his mouth to my soul.

the request couldn’t have been simpler, purer.

mom, could we clear a long stretch of hours, just one day’s stretch, and could you and me burrow into that sacred cocoon of time, could we savor the hours together? could we stitch together a plain old ordinary day of doing the things we love — just the two of us, in slow time?

right away, i heard and i felt the whole of that question. the layers and layers. a longing i too had long known — to spend an unbroken stretch of time with someone you dearly and deeply love, hearts sealed not by virtue of itinerary but simply by the gift of no one or nothing else getting in the way. because all you want is to be entwined, to travel across the hours, together. because all that matters, really, is proximity of the most soulful kind. is time, shared.

by the end of the day, the question couldn’t have been more profound.

by the end of the day — not more than a few hours later, really — i’d gotten word that a very dear friend had taken a terrible turn. her cancer was running amok. doctors had told her — with a rapidity that left us all breathless — that there was nothing left to do. they’d stop the chemo, they’d send her home.

or they had hoped to, anyway. now, it hardly looks likely.

and that was yesterday. this morning i am getting back in my old station wagon, and i am driving downtown. to a hospital. i am going to say goodbye to the woman who has long been the bravest traveler i know. she crossed the globe all on her own, in a trek that stitched her shattered heart stronger than ever, in a trek that taught her thousands of lessons i’ll never know. my friend is blond, naturally so, and as she glided through the dirt-packed roads of africa, then india, and china, and bali, she cut the most exotic figure. she laughed, the deepest soulful laugh, whenever she talked about how the children had flocked to her, stroked her hair, this otherworldly creature who’d dropped into their midst. she loved being surrounded by children, my friend who never birthed her own. my friend who stood beside me at my wedding. my friend who drove me to the hospital the night my bleeding would not stop. my friend who over the years learned the ways of indigenous wise women, and who once, on the eve of my own awful surgery, wafted me head to toe, heart to womb, with the smoke and the incense of the bundle of sage she pulled from her satchel, her medicine bag.

this is the second time in six months, i am saying goodbye to a blessed and beloved friend.

i know how both would answer the question: “can we just have a day?”

the answer, the imperative, is this: seize the day. seize it now. make each hour holy. do not allow the hour to fritter away, charred bits of time, lost to petty and insignificant slights.

can we just have a day?

can we just have a day to seal our hearts, to savor the joy, the truth, before it’s tugged away from us? can we revel in each other’s laughter? can we find the delight as we look out at the world passing by? can we taste deliciousness, taste the whole of it? can we dive deep into the well of each other’s company, each other’s undying love?

i can hear my friends now, both reaching up from their hours of shallow and shallower breathing, i can see the look in their eyes, the insistence, the impatience: seize the day, seize the hour or minute. seize the time that is yours. and be guided only by love. pure and simple.

please, take this day. and make it holy, pure and simple.

please whisper prayers for safe-keeping for my beautiful friend. please please, hold her in all the light you can muster……

all i want for christmas…

all i want for christmas 09all i want for christmas 11

every year on christmas morn, shortly after the rustle under the tree, not long after the little one is certain he’s heard the clomp of reindeer hooves on the roof, there is a thud just over the cookstove, from the bedroom above. it’s followed by the pit-a-pat of little feets rushing to shake the man-child from slumber.

that’s the moment i enter the equation. wait, wait, wait, i holler. let me get a picture.

and so, the annual up-the-gullet-of-the-staircase, bleary-eyed christmas morning pose. boys in sleeping garb, gaining inches by the year.

and this christmas, more than in a very very long time, it’s the moment i am waiting to frame.

it’s all i want for christmas: two boys + one papa + one old house, steamed up from a christmas dawn’s cookery = contentment of the purring kind.

it’s simple, but not, all at once.

we’ve not all been together for christmas for two long years. we’ve not all been together — not in any which way, not the four of us — since way back in august. and much has unfolded, and much has settled deep into my soul. so much so that i’ve emerged with one humble christmas-y wish: dear God, let us all be gathered in one cozy room. that’s all, God.

remember — oh, do i —  how infuriating it used to be, when you’d ask your mama what she wanted for christmas (and you hoped for once she’d drop a fat hint, so you could scurry the department store aisles, beelining for some well-scripted bauble) but all she’d reply was what at the time sounded lamer than lame: oh, honey, all i want is health and well-being for all of us. and you stood there saggy-faced, as visions of sugarplums whirled down your drain?

well, it appears i’ve turned into a variant of that very mama: all i want — beginning to end — is the sound of three voices i love bubbling up and around the red cozy room where logs will sizzle and windows will steam. where i’ll huddle under my buffalo-check blanket, breathe deep, and sink into the holy whirl of immersion. of being no farther from my faraway boy than a hand reached ‘cross the couch. where no crackling phone line will blur the vowels and the consonants, static-charged syllables from half across the globe. where one more year’s memories will be laid deep down in the crevices of my heart, that vessel that allows for easy access come the cold february dawn when the ones i love won’t be within reach, when their hilarity won’t be animating my stirring of oatmeal, when i’d otherwise feel hollow through and through.

it’s a simple prayer, an unadorned wish. it’s love whittled down to its essence: just let us share the gift of an hour, a morning, an unbroken day. let us breathe the same oxygen, let us catch the twinkle in each other’s eye. and not give a damn if any one of the bunch catches their ol’ mama swiping away at a tear, a tear of Godly perfection.

were we not born to work toward, to revel in just that very fine brand of love, one cultivated through long hours of heartache and worry and triumph and faith? one that only gets stronger and harder to shatter, no matter the hurdles, the obstacles, the twists and the turns. one that sustains us till ever and ever. one that’s our life’s holiest treasure.

it’s the spark of Divine, fanned into infinite flame. it’s year after year. it’s mother and child, and holy reunion.

and it’s all i want this most blessed christmas.

may each and every one of your christmas wishes come true. my wish for you is that your quietest unspoken wish is the one you hold in the palm of your hand, and nestle to the core of your heart. how will you spend this most blessed day?

about the frames on high: the one on the left is 2009, when one sweet boy was eight and the other 16. on the right it’s 2011, the first christmas home from college for the taller of the two, and the little one thrilled beyond thrilled to have his best brother — his only brother — right back where he belonged, at the room in the bend in the stairs….

it takes two months for the soul to catch up…

dispatch from 02139 (in which, after weeks of not quite belonging, something deep down inside begins to purr)….

i was riding a motor coach into new hampshire, headed up to eagle pond farm, where the great poet laureate donald hall would usher us into his ancestral white-clapboard home. where we’d poke around the old cow barn, play hide-and-seek with the shafts of late afternoon light spilling onto the cobwebs and a century’s dust. where, in the parlor, in the old house, we’d crowd around the old blue chair that slumped in all the places where hall slumped because he’s been there, by the window, looking out at the barn, at the hills, at the birds, for nearly a lifetime. and he’s 84 now.

because nothing in niemanland idles, little screens had dropped from the lid of the motor coach shortly after we’d pulled from the curb. it was a bill moyers film, a conversation with hall and his late wife, the poet jane kenyon. it was called, simply: “a life together.” and i’d watch it again.

somewhere just across the state line, kenyon, who was wise in a way that makes you pull out your pen and jot notes, was talking about how, when she’d first moved to new hampshire, into the old house filled with hall’s family’s rumblings, how for a time she felt “quite disembodied.”

then she said something that made my pen move in that way that it does when i don’t want the words to escape, to whirl down the drain of my brain, never to be fished out again.

she said, and i scribbled: “someone said that when you move it takes your soul a few weeks to catch up with you.”

[in case you, like me, want to know the rest of that thought, here’s what she said next: “and when we came here, of course, this house is so thoroughly full of don’s family, his ancestors, their belongings, their reverberations, that i — at times i felt almost annihilated by the otherness of it.”]

not long after that motor coach epiphany, another wise woman in my life, one who knows my little one quite thoroughly, she wrote a note from back home, after i’d told her about the serious case of homesick blues that had stricken the little fellow.

“it takes two months,” she declared. two months for a kid and his soul to catch up. two months to not feel, as kenyon poetically put it: “almost annihilated by the otherness of it.”

(well, it had never quite inched toward annihilation, but we all get the point.)

so, for days and weeks, as i scurried along the cobblestone sidewalks, tried hard not to trip, not to turn the wrong way, as i thoroughly drank up the otherness, i held those two thoughts in my head. columns, almost, against which i leaned.

and then i lost track.

just scribbled my lists, day after day. tried to remember to turn in my papers, read all my books. dash to the store for OJ and milk and boxes of cat litter, all those things you can’t be without.

people we love came and went. my brother, my sister (long ago, we ditched the “in-law” disclaimer), my sweet little niece. two dear dear old friends. and my mama. oh, and that boy from the college a ways down route 2.

and then, it turned into this week.

and that’s when i noticed the purring. that deep down contentment. that rare inner rumble when suddenly you take in a breath, and you feel the whole of your lungs expanding, contracting. you know, just because you do, that each and every itty-bitty balloon of your lungs is filled to the brim with pure oxygen.

you are walking along a glistening river, drinking in the endless stand of sycamore trunks, all mottled in two tones of gray, as if they’re afflicted with some sort of melanin disorder, and they can’t quite decide whether to be the color of soot or clouds on a gloomy fall day.

you are, perhaps, sitting in a cafe, sipping your peppermint tea, practically knee-to-knee with a professor who is unspooling tales of his uncanny friendship with martin luther king, jr. yes, that’s what i said: martin luther king, jr.

you are scribbling madly, because you can’t quite fathom that here you are, across the street from the very block where “love story” was filmed, where ali mcgraw and ryan o’neal romped, and you are soaking up stories of phone calls and jail cells and marching for civil rights. and you are nearly in tears when the professor, who’s been talking for more than an hour, tells you he wants to leave you with one last image, because, he says, “my kids love this one.”

so he tells you how the very last time he went to say goodbye to martin, after a trip to memphis where he, your professor, gave a big talk at martin’s request, he knocked at the motel room door. ralph abernathy, a name you might know from your history lessons, opened the door, and turned to get martin.

at this point in the story the professor explains how, after a long day of marching and fighting for rights, king and his cronies loved to shake it all off with nothing more pure than a pillow fight. they loved their pillow fights, your old professor laughs, as if he’s watching one now.

and then he gives you the image you will carry forever: so martin, he says, comes to the door, and his black head of hair is peppered with a crown of itty-bitty wisps of white feathers. a celestial vision, it seems.

martin’s last words: “till next time…”

and my professor, the one who is teaching the course on modern spiritual pioneers and religious revolutionaries, looks up across the cafe table, and says: “there was no next time. he was killed four days later.”

***

and later, on the same afternoon, after yet another divinity class in which virginia woolf’s “to the lighthouse,” was the subject of much parsing and digging, you find yourself scurrying down the cobblestone sidewalk to meet your dear friend, to ride on the T to the museum of fine arts, where no less than mary oliver — mary oliver whose words and questions and red birds and mornings have stirred you to trembles, to tears — will for an hour stand and read you — and a whole auditorium of others — a full slate of her poems.

and you will be riding the T into boston, and you will look up and drink in the mottled evening sky, as the T rumbles over the charles river. and you will hear the sound of your friend, your friend who welcomed you to the lane, back weeks ago, with a knock at the door and a tinfoil-blanketed plate of hot oatmeal cookies, and you will think to yourself, “i am purring.”

and you will remember the words of jane kenyon, and the wise woman back home who said it would take two months. and you will know, through and through, that at last your soul caught up with the rest of you.

and now it is softly at home.

in the parts of your life where you’ve up and started anew — be it a house, or a job, or a chapter of living — how long does it take, and how do you know that at last your dear soul has caught up with the rest of you? and what do you with yourself in the days and the weeks where it’s missing in action?

p.s. the snapshot above is boston’s museum of fine arts, where mary oliver was about to take to the podium, and read from her new book — “a thousand  mornings” — and other poems of wonder. what i hope is that the canvas of autumn sky and the glowing face of the art hall gives you a glimpse of the feel of this week, “do come in, and make yourself quite at home….”