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Tag: waiting

breath, suspended…

teddyhanddrawn heart

i prayed so hard these would be the words i got to write, and so i begin with this, the thank you prayer…

the call came just as i was sitting and reading a story i wrote long ago, a story about my mama’s breast cancer. funny, the tricks the universe plays. i thought little of it when the old phone announced on its screen that “northwestern mem” (the hospital) was calling. i’d had a 3-D mammogram the day before and i figured they were calling to give me the official “all’s clear.”

i was wrong.

it must have been mid-sentence in a sentence that suddenly seemed to be taking far too long to get to the point that i realized this might not be the call i’d wanted. i’m pretty sure i felt my heart slow with a thump. the nice lady — they are always nice on these calls — was telling me something about asymmetries, telling me not one but two spots on both sides looked suspicious. (she might have used a more innocuous word than “suspicious,” but once in the call-back landscape, a girl hears what she hears, and i heard trouble).

that’s when the breath-holding began. call backs in the middle of a long hot summer are not for the faint of heart. i’m pretty quick at sizing up danger, and i sized up this one, all right. first words that leapt from synapse to synapse were these: “oh no, too soon. the boys still need me.” for one, there are two years of law school still to go, and i’ve got my seat at graduation on mental reserve. i intend to be right there, and not wafting as some long-gone memory of a mom-turned-casper-the-friendly-ghost. and for two, the so-called little one still has a year left of high school, and right now he’s in the middle of tryouts for varsity soccer, and i was not about to let a single hiccup get in the way of that already-breath-holding adventure in steep climbs. so i sealed my lips and said not a word. (i only whispered to one or two girlfriends, and of course to that blessed fellow who hears most but not all of the daily headlines from my self-published worry gazette.)

long story short: not a minute went by during those long seven days when i wasn’t weighing the odds, hedging my bets, begging the heavens that this whole thing turned into yet another close call.

the hospital that wanted the second look could not fit me in for a week. my doctor insisted i go straight to second-look central, and not dilly around with one of the satellite operations where maybe, just maybe, the scrutinizing wouldn’t be up to her very high standards. of course, that scared me. i was scared, too, because more often than not i’ve sailed through these annual exercises in getting squished in the chest. i’ve had a call-back or two in the past, but it’s been awhile and nowadays the machines they use are so super-duper and soooooo very fine at peeking into every nook and cranny, i figured that if the darn newfangled machine saw something fishy it was a fish meant to be seen.

the weekend was long. so were monday and tuesday.

at long last, on the day that happened to be my second-born’s 17th birthday, and the first full day of his long-awaited, much-fretted soccer tryouts, i had to dart out in the middle of the day for my unexplained five-hour absence. five hours?!?!, you say. yup. that’s how long the darn poking and peeking around ended up going. they’d called me in for so many rounds of pictures, with varying degrees of specificity and technicians muttering, scrutinizing, apologizing, and then trying hard to hold a poker face, that by four in the afternoon when they sent me from pictures to ultrasound, i figured i was cooked. i’d started imagining how i would look with no hair and no eyebrows, how in the world i would break the news to my beautiful boys. i waste no time in the shallow end of the pool, when i can go straight to the deep end. and deep end was me.

i’d seen six rounds of technicians, and a phalanx of high-vision docs before anyone finally muttered the holiest word i’d heard in a very long while. “we’re not seeing anything worrisome,” said the very very nice doctor in charge, letting loose a week’s worth of stored-up breaths from my lungs. and suddenly, after brushing away the tear or two that couldn’t keep from falling, my whole world turned colored again.

but before the colors washed back in, before i could hope in my head for an extraordinary ordinary weekend, i’d tasted the magic — the most blessed blessing — of savoring even the smallest dab of everyday sacred: the gathering with friends over the weekend, the first sip of prosecco, the sound of the birds through the kitchen window, the sound of my firstborn’s voice on the other end of the long-distance line. not a single frame of being alive was passing by me unnoticed. or un-savored.

there’s a sharp edge to living that comes when you’re scared, when you’re thrust unaware into counting the hours, into marking off life in short-term brackets.

it’s a variation on electro-shock therapy (the sort to the soul, not to the brain): you’re jolted awake and at highest attention when flat-out fear comes to roost. i know it’s not altogether healthy, and not the wisest way to fritter away the days. but i make the most of it. i consider it a trial run, a crash course in counting every last decimal of all of my blessings. i use the siege to sift through my life, to weigh the ways i spend my hours. to crank the dial a notch, and make each moment count in duplicate, even triplicate.

and then, when the whistle blows, when the lifeguards tell me the long wait is over and i can breathe once again, i make more than a mental note. i drop to my knees and promise aloud i’ll not take this — not any of this — for granted. i stand at full-throttle attention, drinking in the ones i love with all of my heart, savoring the dew of the dawn, and the stitches of stars in the dome of the night.

the world is bristling with color this morning. and i am blessing each drop.

thank you, dear God, for this day and this hour. i’ll not waste it, i promise…

what keeps you from wasting a day? 

ministrations of waiting


they are the necessary lulls. the pauses between breath. the sometimes awful, often angst-filled hours of not knowing. of waiting.

of not yet filling in the blanks with answers just around the bend.

i am waiting now. waiting now that one editor has signed off, has passed along a final manuscript to another, to the one who decides. who deems yea, or hmm, maybe you should take another crack at this….

and if you are composed of the filaments and synapses that are mine, this is where all sorts of goblins filter in. you begin to imagine conversations. you picture emails. most of them begin, “i’m so sorry….”

you imagine the worst. you imagine, because at some deep sad level it must reflect the deepest reflection of your vision of your soul, that you’ve not measured up. will never measure up.

i’d thought it might be wise to not put these words to paper (so-called paper, anyway). but then i thought, oh geez, too many of us share this plight. we doubt ourselves before we’re given one chance to rise up, to shine.

so here i wait. and while i wait, i realize that the wisest thing for me to do — besides turn the dial on the little voices that fill my head, that convince me of my unworthiness — is to get about the business of tending to the oft-pushed-aside quotidian. the season’s turning calls to me. the night’s chilled air begs attention. there are bulbs to tuck into the gashes of the earth. there are long-frond ferns who beg for warmth inside, who promise green through winter. or at least through thanksgiving.

i missed last year’s call to tuck in for winter slumber. i was far away, and could not tend to the bulbs, the fronds, the birds that have come to depend on me. so i’ve been out already this morning, out since well before the inky dawn was rubbed away. i was out with my buckets of seeds, i was out unearthing bulbs from the layers of crinkled newspaper that blanket them, that i pray kept them safe enough through the night that grew colder while i was not paying attention.

the earth does that: turns on and on without heed to whether we are paying attention. if we notice, if we tuck the bulbs before they freeze, well then glory is the prize come springtime. if not, if we blew it, weren’t worthy of the glory, well then the earth will not crack, no green shoot will rise, no heirloom hyacinth or bread-and-butter daffodil will trumpet.

i will soothe myself with the apothecary of the home and garden that i’ve claimed as my surest cure for almost anything that ails me. i will slow cook. and dig in the garden. i will sit in dappled light, with sweaters round my shoulders. i will drink in arcing sunlight, and winged shadow. i will tend the tender shoots and leaves that depend on me. i will practice believing that the pause is not about my falling short, but rather simply for another reason.

i will try. this practice doesn’t come without its stumbles. this practice is emboldened with a sturdy trowel, and a box of bulbs begging to be tucked where they will thrive. after a long winter’s pause.

do you too suffer the plight of the deep gnawing misgiving? the cursed lack of faith? the scourge of never thinking you are good enough? 

the gift that is my counting-down boy

“it’s advent,” he said with a twinkle.

“24 days,” he said two seconds later, not sure that i’d netted his drift.

finally, i found my way along his breadcrumb trail of hints.

“it’ll be up when you get home,” i shot right back, suddenly relieved that we’d awakened to a chandelier dangling by a mere two wires, a heavy chandelier, mind you. an antique of brass and blue-and-white porcelain, one you wouldn’t want crashing to the floor. but because the darn thing was dangling in such a dangerous way, and because there was no contraption we could contrapt to girdle it in place while we waited for the handy shock-and-wires man, i had to stay home all day, typing from my writing room.

which is a long and winding way to say: while he was off at school, and i was home cobbling stories amid chandelier-crash patrol, i tiptoed to the basement, to the box marked “early christmas,” and grabbed the string of red-plaid pockets, the one that every year since he remembers i’ve filled with little chocolates, peppermints and hints of the christmastide to come.

it’s the counting-down string, and he is not too old to count the days to christmas. nor to not want the house the way it’s always been.

and as i tiptoed up the stairs, i filled my heart and lungs with the deepest, purest knowing of just how much i’m blessed, soaked through and through, with the gift of a child who is still little boy enough to want to have that bit of magic dangling at the window. who wants to reach his little hand in there and pull out a surprise.

in these days and months since he’s been home alone, the one little someone among the trees of taller people, he has reminded me again and again just how deep a miracle he is.

oh, not simply that he’s here among us, long after the doctors told me “never.” not that i am nearly 55, and he is merely 10.

no, the real gift of my little bundle of purely answered prayer is that he is rare in the most delicious way.
“pure butter,” i just wrote of him to my beloved portland sister.

he’s a kid who halfway through dinner hops up from his chair and shimmies on the bench beside me. and when i ask (as mamas are wont to do), “why’d you just get up,” he melts me with his answer: “i wanted to sit next to you.”

now don’t think that he’s some mama’s boy. because he’s not. he’s this way with his papa, his grandma, and his big faraway brother.

more than once last week i found him sprawled across his brother’s lap, taking in a rough-and-tumble football game.

doesn’t matter that he’s fierce on a soccer field, or dribbling down a court. his essence, the one i’ve watched since he was born in a shaft of midnight light, is pure molasses gold.

he was the baby who wanted to be nestled, always, right against my chest, to absorb the lullaby of my quickly-ticking heart.

and somehow, some amazing somehow, he’s never lost that deep magnetic pull.

any minute now, i’ll be tossing on my coat and hopping on the train because, at 10 years old, he still wants me on his field trip. could not wait to tell me he saw my name on the chaperone list. could not wait to tell me i got to spend a whole cold and chilly day walking through the outdoor german market.

it is these sparks of innocence, his unfiltered exuberance, his lack of hurry in the growing-up department, that is the gift i hold in my palms as if a fragile robin’s egg.

as a mama, i straddle quite a canyon, the one that finds me taking in the college tales, and the worries that come with it, while with the other foot i am firmly planted in the giggles and the charms of fifth grade.

one night i might watch the little one smear on a slick of underarm deodorant before he tumbles into bed (“i like to smell something good when i first wake up,” he explains, as if anyone should know that), but next morning he’ll ask if i can help him cut his waffles.

it is this blessed holy middle place–not yet big and tough and smelling like a goat, still blithe enough to not mind holding tight my hand as we tiptoe through the night–that makes me whisper my unending thanks.

i am holding each and every frame, savoring the pure undiluted joy of this second round of life that came tumbling from the heavens.

bless you, my counting-down boy.

we all have gifts aplenty. as we count the days toward the longest night, and towards the holy christmas story, what might we find in your red-plaid pocket if you were to pull out but one magic parcel this fine december day?

beyond the double doors

maybe you’ve been to that place. the invisible line, where someone you love is in the hands of strangers you’ve not before seen. and, at the very last instant, the strangers turn to you, just barely, more like over their shoulder they remember you’re there, call out, almost a bark, “this is it.”

so you, quick, grab a kiss. you gulp, and you stand there, just this side of the big swinging doors. with barely a whoosh then a clunk, the doors open. then swallow the someone you love.

and you are left standing there. trying not to worry. trying to chase all the thoughts from your head. the ones that sometimes bang around in your brain. sometimes make you afraid.

or, not quite so dreadfully, there are the gallumps in your heart. the ones that remind you that forever–even though you are now gray, and drive your own car–the someone they just took from you, she is the one who long long ago kissed your knees when you banged them. she alone knew how to scramble your eggs the way you liked them the best. she, too, was the one who, that hot summer night when you were nine, maybe 10, sat in the dark with you, your backs against the door of the fridge. and together you nibbled away at the pan of fudge she’d slipped from the shelf where it set for an hour or so, after she’d poured in the cream and followed the steps on the little blue box.

you don’t quite line up those thoughts, one after the other. more like it all comes at you in a wadded-up ball. and as you watch the back of the big double door swing finally shut, sealed, you turn, all alone, and you realize how much you really are helpless.

there’s only so much we can do for the ones who we love. we are, in the end, passersby in this play. there are times, and there are places, where we can’t be and can’t go.

so we wad up our worries and prayers, and we get through the hours till we can be there again. can be the one to put cool washcloths to heads. can hold onto an arm. can dial the brothers–far, far away–give them the word: she’s out from the OR. i’ve talked to the surgeon. she’s resting. she’ll be all right soon.

and again, you sit by her side. you wait for the flutter of eyes. you wince as you see the arm you’ve long known and long held, now puffy and bruised, all sorts of tubes running under a gown that’s starchy and doesn’t stay closed.

you remember, your mother–who to you is so much a part of your story, your ups and your downs, your wings and your clodhopper feet–you remember she is, like all the rest of us, bones and flesh, veins and lumps that need to be cut and removed.

if you’re like me, most of the time we prefer to think of our mothers–and all those we love–as well beyond bones. we are not so much accumulations of tissues and cells, we like to pretend, as we are long spinning spools of story and myth.

we are narrative arc. we are themes that recur. we are denouement, and climax. we are character, deeply nuanced, and, more often than not, rather predictable. we stick to our lines. some of us work hard at refining, and raising our sights. some of us get stuck in a rut.

but always, we are eager to turn over each page. to see where this story is headed. to find out if, ever, we say what we mean, and we get at the truth.

sometimes, it’s sitting there at a hospital bedside that we are most keenly aware of just how deeply we’re tied. and how tender our hearts are for the one who is lying there, listless, and dopey on drugs.

sometimes what they do beyond the double doors is stir up our souls. re-jiggle the plot. lay out the players, starker than ever.

the one they return to us, we remember, is not and will not be here forever. and so we move with more care, and more purpose, as we tend to their wounds, put cool sips to their lips. and kiss them goodnight in the tenderest way.

my mama is all right, now. a little bit bumpy there, but now home in her very own bed. hospitals have a way of wrenching open your heart. whether it’s your story, or one you happen to catch unfolding down the long lonely corridor. home looks sweeter and finer than ever, once you’re back to stay. have you left someone at the double doors, marked “restricted area”? what thoughts have you thought while the clock ticked the hours away? how sweet, the reunion?


i kept an eye on that clock. the minute hand seemed to be moving like mud through molasses. or maybe it was up there taking a bit of a snooze.

after all, it was — and i knew this because despite the sleepy part’s insistence otherwise, despite its inclination to give up and quit the one job that it has in this world, it was still telling time — and the time that it told me was that, yes indeed, it was minutes away from the middle, the deepest dark hour, of the night.

and the child i’d last seen a few hours ago, when i dropped him off at the curb in the snow and the glow of a street lamp, well, he was out coursing the roads, the roads getting icy, and i was there in the kitchen thrumming my fingers, pretending to read, but really i wasn’t paying one bit of attention.

my attention, instead, was rather devotedly glued to the hands of the clock and the knob on the door that i was willing to hear make a click.

someone’s home, it would say. the someone you wanted to see is safe now, is here. is back from the place where you have utterly no control. where cars can cross lines and odd things can happen. where outcomes are wholly, eternally, always, left to fat chance.

not home. not there in the view of your eyes where you can be a little more certain — if not utterly 100-percent guaranteed–that all will be well.

and so in the abyss that plunges between those two cliffs — uncertainty and certainty — i engaged in the ancient and timeless art of waiting.

to wait, sometimes, is to be pregnant with hope. sometimes to wait is to dread. but that’s not the case, not really, when it’s a child you birthed who is out in the world, and it’s dark and it’s late and you would like once again to hear the clomp of his feet sloshing snow on the rug in the hall.

to this particular species of waiting, you realize quite quickly, you are quite new, quite unaccustomed. you only just now are getting a taste of the trials that come with the letting out of the spool that, until now, you kept rather close to the palm of your hand.

the art of waiting for someone you love, someone to please come home, is an art that has lost some of its power here in the day of the cellular tether. worried? give a call. can’t find? cell can.

back through the history of time, though, there has been waiting and waiting. penelope waited for odysseus. civil war mothers waited for soldier sons. and now i, a mother whose son had just lost his cell phone, waited for mine.

odd thing, the book that was waiting with me, the book i was allegedly reading, the book whose words my eyes at least glanced at but didn’t take in, not so much anyway, was a book with a passage on waiting.

as the clock ticked ever-so-slowly, i passed over again the letters spilled there on the page.
this time i read:

“waiting, because it will always be with us, can be made a work of art, and the season of advent invites us to underscore and understand with a new patience that very feminine state of being, waiting.

“our masculine world wants to blast away waiting from our lives. we equate waiting with wasting. so we build concorde planes, drink instant coffee, roll out green plastic and call it turf, and reach for the phone before we reach for the pen. the more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry.”

the author of these words is gertrud mueller nelson, whose book, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, 1986) is a treatise on ritual, and one of those rare books that offers more, plentiful more, with each reading.

she encourages us to practice the art of waiting, the art of delayed gratification. our children, most of all, need to practice and practice, she urges. and this time before christmas, this time when the world is rushing so madly, she suggests in a deep counter-cultural challenge, is the peak time to settle in and make the most of the incubation that begs our attention.

“brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting, ripening, germinating, gestating are the feminine processes of becoming and they are the symbolic states of being which belong in a life of value, necessary to transformation,” nelson writes.

and i listen.

is not the slowing of time, and the quickening of attention, the whole point of our practice here? are we not, day after day, looking to slow the e-z, the instant, the world without pause?

are we not working to learn to cup in our hands, the winged butterfly landed amid his long flight, the holiest waters of life as they’re poured? are we not trying to stop, take a drink, quench the unquenchable thirst?

what then to do with the minutes near midnight, when the child you love, the child just starting to be off on his own, finding his way in the dark, isn’t home yet?

i suppose i could fritter away the slow-moving minutes. picture the car on the side of the road. the children jolting. the call that won’t come.

or, i could sink down to a deeper place in my heart. i could rumble around, think of the ways that he keeps me in stitches. think of the light in his eyes. picture the mop of his curls. remember the rhythm with which he plucked on his big double bass, there at the edge of the stage, when the light happened to shine and catch the tops of his curls.

i could take hold of the minutes of waiting and savor the blessing of beholding the boy who i love. i could practice the art of filling with hope. being pregnant to life and the possibility that requires some time, takes no short cut.

i could simmer some thought, brew a tall pot of ideas. i could ripen to love.

and when the click of the door comes, and the slosh of the very big shoes, i could sigh.

the long wait is over. my blessing spills over the side of the pan, roasting there in the slow, hot oven.

do you practice the art of waiting? do you try to savor the slow road in the interstate world that offers express lanes? in this wintry season of waiting, how do you make the most of blessed incubation?

speaking of this wintry season, i managed to find time to do a little housekeeping here at the chair over the weekend. and what spins on the lazy susan is new, is december, is plentiful. please give it a whirl.

and just in case you’ve been aware of the calendar, as i have, tomorrow is the very last day of our first year. i’ll have some thinks on the year, so please do come back. the coffee will be hotter, the cake on the platter just a little bit sweeter. do stop by for a visit. love, the chair lady

very last thing: bless you to julie for sending me to “the dance with God” in the first place. it was a fine friend while waiting the other night.