“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”—Brené Brown

*This is the 3rd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here and the second can be found here.

The drive from Dallas to Houston on I-45 is long with stretches of road in ill-repair—narrow where under-construction—and lined with ranches as evidenced by sprawling pastures and tall, drying grass that seems to go on for miles.

My mother held herself gingerly in the back seat while my sister and I attempted levity in response to the grueling situation with comments about the cowboy church we passed and the git er’ done sticker on the back of the pick-up truck window—beneath the gun rack.

I looked through the messages on my phone hoping for something new to pop up and take my mind off my desire to skip over the drive and get to the treatment. My heart seemed to beat at a quickened tempo in response to my thoughts.

Residents of just about every state relish their unique slice of sky. Texas could win a prize for most-opulent setting sun—golden and radiating in the drawn-out center, all-wrapped-in-red-at-the-end like a pair of shiny boots.

We switched drivers just before the glow dropped below the horizon and later when I pulled into a rural gas station, it was dark. My sister returned from the bathroom and I got out of the car—stretching—watching through a window from outside the building as three men—traveling together—walked toward a long hallway inside where the restrooms were located.

I contemplated whether it was safe to enter the narrow hallway—outnumbered. I ended up waiting, slowing my pace and slipping in to the women’s room when they were out of site.

The likelihood they were predators was slim, I’m sure.

In the hotel room my mother got into bed wearing her clothing—something she would never have done when well. I curled up next to her and my sister joked that I just didn’t want to sleep next to her.

Humor soothed the anguish of our mother’s suffering—so-on-display. Our shared sense of irony was a private language between us, our closeness a shroud of protection.

I waited—more than slept— and checked for the time when the alarm would sound and the neurologist would meet us at the hospital.

He had called me earlier to find out when we would be arriving—too late for admittance that evening. His tone was grandfatherly and when we met, his wide smile and straight, bright-white teeth were familiar.

His accent evoked his heritage and a way of treating people that seemed of another time.

Weeks later—on a day in which my mother was improving—we shared with him about how our father had flown regularly as an airline captain to a neighboring country near where he was from. As a young child, it was a mystery to me where my father was much of the time, although the souvenirs were good clues when he returned home—colorful, velvet sombreros that were hung on a wall, miniature stone castles for the tops of our dressers and endless sets of plastic wings to wear on our shirts.

When I was a teenager and the news was bad—like when a Boeing 757 crashed into the side of a mountain in the country where my father flew most often, or a hijacking was underway—I would go scrambling to find out where he was and whether or not he was safe.

Airports and airplanes were familiar places to me in the way that a school might be for a teacher’s offspring.

Chicago O’Hare had the tall, red, popcorn machines and three-letter airport-abbreviations lived in me like a part of my genetic code—BUF, DFW, LAX. A plethora of old-school ticket-stubs hung around our house piling up and finding alternate uses as bookmarks and scrap paper.

Marilyn—the pilots’ secretary—filled toilet paper rolls with candy and wrapped them in tissue paper with ribbons on the end. Whenever we passed through, she would open the drawer to her metal desk and hand one to me and my sisters.

In all of those hours of sitting and waiting and traveling, I fell-in-love-with reading and have rarely-since left home bookless.

For this trip I had packed in my carry-on the first of the three books I had recently purchased, having already read the second.

I still hadn’t connected with the fact that the author of the current book—Brené Brown—was from Houston. At that point, I didn’t even know for certain that I would be going to Houston. I only thought it convenient that at such a difficult time, I happened to have the perfect book-in-tow.

We entered the hospital-admittance waiting room just after dawn—beginning our lengthy wait for a bed. We stood in front of the art display cases lining the wall filled with delicate sculptures of birds and other nature scenes, encouraging our mother to rest in a reclining chair covered with a blanket.

It was noon before we finally had her settled in a shared-room with revolving roommates at the end of the hallway. It would be days before we would move into a private room where we set-up camp.

We read on the nurse’s board how some of the patients had been there for many weeks, even months.

As the days passed, I did whatever I could to help the nurses help my mother all-the-while composing letters in my head thanking them.

Donna with her braided hair and upright posture, the way she thought things through and answered yes whenever she could—her dad re-married and moved to London, she living at home with her mom to save money.

Kara with her stamina and return-to-kindness again and again, her rapid response to a rapid drop in blood pressure— saying she was prayin’ for us and telling about her grandfather with Alzheimer’s.

Montoya—a nurse’s aide and possibly part-angel with an unflappable—yet palatable— positivity and willingness to help in any way she could.

I thought about the privilege of having access to attentive, 24-hour-care in juxtaposition with the bedraggled man I had been noticing each day when I came and went from the hospital—stationed in a wheelchair out front—his leg propped up, his head drooped down, his body curved in the shape of the letter C.

One nurse—the exception—demonstrated for me the power of our being there, of our witness.

I watched as she inserted a new IV—the third or fourth in an already battered arm. When she accidentally moved the needle and catheter backward—forcefully in the wrong direction, under skin—I nearly jumped out of my own skin and my mother gasped, crying out in pain.

The nurse’s comment about what she had done was dismissive and unapologetic. In that (however brief) moment she seemed to have lost touch with her patient as a human being.

I validated my mom’s anguish at her situation as a whole and held her hand and did anything I could to comfort her in those weeks—regardless of the futility I felt—and when there was a quiet moment, I would drop-my-own-head-down and read a little from the book in my lap.

In many ways I was already living out the author’s suggestions for meeting challenges with the courage of curiosity and a keen eye for erroneous inner-storytelling as a means of dodging growth and personal responsibility.

I was right there with her and while there were certainly things for me to learn or experience more deeply, it was having the book with me—and the act of reading it there in Houston Methodist Hospital—that became relevant to me, flipping time around on its head and revealing the inherently, circular nature of life, once again.

My sister and I offered each other breaks from the intensity of our experience by encouraging the other to go down to the lobby of the hospital and sometimes we would go there together.

It was a beautiful and peaceful place with an arching atrium where light poured in on sunny days.

Lines of trees and plants surrounded tables where hospital staff had lunch alongside visitors and patients and even the building grounds crew took up a table occasionally.

There was a fountain in the middle with a life-sized sculpture of a turquoise-God-I-couldn’t-name riding a dolphin. Water cascaded over the rounded edges of the pool and seemed at the same time to be both flowing and static—like plastic wrap had been pulled taught in a curved and striated position and filled up with liquid.

There was a grand piano near the entrance with two large vases set beside thick columns—none of which would have seemed out of place in a museum.

Occasionally an individual would approach the piano and play—a concert musician’s serenade to a somewhat weary crowd.

At first, I kept to myself what I had read from the book there in my lap—the magnitude and gravity of my mother’s care overwhelming the impact of the coincidence I had consumed and for which I had felt a deep sense of awe.

But then, one afternoon, my sister and I were in the lobby about to sit down to a three o’clock lunch we had finally gotten to. With only two restaurants to choose from in walking distance—and nearly a dozen days of needing to eat —it might be fair to say that I have finally had my fill of Chipotle, another bowl of which we were about to consume.

We were standing by our table, setting our things down—when a couple approached us. It took me a moment to process the fact that they were homeless or nearly so—and they were requesting our help.

They led by sharing about their embarrassment in approaching us—it was a Sunday and the lobby was nearly empty, they had likely snuck in.

Given the subject-matter I had been reading about in my book and the fact that I was where I was, everything around me, suddenly came into clear focus.

I knew—without a doubt—it was no accident these individuals were approaching me now.

I brought my whole attention to them—specifically making a point to look directly into their eyes while internally asking myself the question, can I look openly at the pain and need before me and hold space for it, not diverting my gaze or rushing to end the interaction?

The man’s bright blue eyes contrasted with his dirty jacket and need for a shower. I was glad they had each other. I told them I understood what they were going through and immediately felt a little sorry for saying that—knowing how little I actually knew about what it would mean to be in their situation.

What I meant was, I see you—I see my own need in you—and I do not judge you for where you’ve found yourself.

I gave them money and when my sister and I sat down, I flooded her with the story of what had been happening between the pages of my book and how profoundly aligned it was with our experience.

I explained that Brené Brown had written a story in the book I just happened to have with me about her own experience in the lobby of Houston Methodist Hospital—when her mother had become suddenly ill.

I bought the book in South Portland, Maine—near where I live— at a time when I imagined I would be spending the fall admiring the colorful transformation of leaves, sending my children off to school and returning to my work.

I described to my sister how the parallels did not stop there with our presence in Houston.

Brené Brown had also described the way her curiosity around a characteristic she had noticed about herself in her interactions with homeless people had culminated into deeper understanding through an experience with a homeless man she had witnessed playing the grand piano a few feet from where we stood.

Her quest for understanding was prompted by the question of why she was able to give readily to a homeless person in her presence and yet, she could only do so hastily and without looking into the person’s eyes nor lingering in their presence—an uncharacteristic manner for a seasoned social worker and compared with her normal way of being with people.

After she had encountered a homeless man at a restaurant across from the hospital (perhaps Chipotle) where he was being shoved out of the place and then witnessing him the following day in the lobby playing the piano, she had also come to attention—knowing life was speaking to her.

She entered into a conversation with her mother about the history of need and self-reliance in the story of her family eventually coming to terms with the fact that her reticence was rooted in an avoidance of facing the presence of  her very own need residing in her being.

In some ways my sister and I were blown-away by the seeming coincidences of the book and the way it was lining up with our own experience.

It also felt like of course this was happening—we knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

Later when another person—clearly in need—approached us on the street, I asked him if he was the one who liked to play the piano in the lobby—I had to try— and he said, no.

I know that guy though! he’d said.

A few days later, toward the end of our time at the hospital and after a particularly stressful experience, I decided to walk outside around the medical center—something I hadn’t done much of.

There was an abundance of concrete and almost no-green to be found in the area.

I walked past the children’s section of the hospital where large, colorful letters lined the walkway and found the door to the playground area with benches and fountains locked.

I looped around through cancer centers and other specialty clinics and after not-too-long I was back where I started. In the distance I saw the man who I had been noticing all throughout my time there stationed in his wheelchair with a towel draped like a triangle over his head and his leg propped out in front of him.

He had been moved or someone had moved him away from being right-out-front in plain view. Now he was under an overhang and out of the regular flow of traffic in-and-out of the hospital.

I began walking back up the ramp toward the entrance and suddenly something stopped me. I turned around and walked back down, looking into my purse to see what I might be able to give him.

I walked slowly toward him and finally stood directly in-front of him. His head was drooping down and when he sensed my presence he looked up at me, raising his head just slightly.

I looked into his eyes watching as they widened in surprise at someone standing there before him. I observed his rounded spine, drooping skin and ragged clothing. He was really thin.

Our eyes continued to be locked and I somehow managed to say, I’m so sorry you are suffering.

His eyes widened, again, and I saw tears spring up into their corners—emphasizing the already liquid nature of their rich, chocolately color.

A flood emotion came washing over me—my mother, the suffering, the inequity, this world—and I held it all back like you might hold a door closed with your whole body against a powerful wind.

Tucking money down by his hand, I told him I hoped someone could help him get some food or help or whatever he needed.

It was clear he couldn’t speak but he stayed intently in my gaze. It felt like we both knew this interaction was not about the money or at least that is what I told myself.

I didn’t know what else to say or what I could do so I said again, I’m so sorry you are suffering and walked away down the street and away from the hospital where I could breathe.

I finished the last few pages of my book in the final days my sister and I were together and handed it over to her for her flight home.

The third of the books I had recently purchased was sitting in my lap on the runway as we began barreling forward into the morning sun and lifting smoothly into the air. I opened its hard cover and began reading as I listened for the wheels being drawn up and tucked away, and headed for home.

 

*Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I decided to break it up into a few installments. This was the 3rd. Thank you for staying with me! I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the other two posts, you can find them here and here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering.  

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“When we allow story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it.”—Thomas Moore

*This is the 2nd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here.

 

I was on a high from a stretch of days at beaches near-and-far—channeling Jonah and Adrian’s end-of-summer animations away from each other and out into the ethers in places where the sky was vast, the dunes lined with beach roses and the forceful gusts of Maine sea air had a way of whisking away any discord and landing us back in equanimity.

We had gathered smooth and colorful stones—some of them speckled like granite—arranging them in a spiral formation, a coiled serpent in the sand. There were new—more durable—blue and red wave boards picked up at an end-of-season-sale, tried-out and shown to be less-bendy.

I had been lured back into icy waters—a reunion with the cold, a reconciliation with important-parts disowned.

Imagine the splendor of a world in which all-original-qualities-renounced are reclaimed by their rightful owners—the genuine power and delicate force of a planet filled with intact human beings operating at full-potential.

I thought we could maximize our beach-time on Labor Day Weekend by being settled on or near a shoreline—not venturing back-and-forth daily, nightly laundry removed from the equation.

The five-star reviews—the rugged description of the cabins—supported my blind-spot.

I read on the hotel website that depending on the tide, we might need to row a small boat—along with our beach gear—across a tidal river situated between the cabins and the shoreline to access the beach. I imagined a symbiotic arrangement ensuring a row-boat would be available on either side of the river when needed. I pretended the beach gear for a family of four could be made light and compact, that the river would be narrow.

I completely skipped-over the video that, perhaps, with its vivid description of what exactly it would take to reach the waves, might have sent me looking for another hotel completely.

A caravan of traffic weaved slowly south along US-1 as we neared our destination. Checking-in I noted the distance from our room to the start of the river’s crossing—a pilgrimage-length journey worthy of a water break for even the most seasoned trekker.

Our two double beds were fit snug in the room and there was a large picture window that looked out into a field overlooking a modest swimming pool and the wide expanse of the river that stretched between us and the midnight-blue Atlantic.

Slight in size and a seeming page-turner, I had packed the second of the three books I had recently purchased. I began reading it the first night—the light on low—and was quickly drawn back into the narrative of an author I had become familiar with some fifteen years ago.

Immersed once again in the subject of a soul’s journey though time, I thought about my son Adrian and how just about as soon as he could talk, he expressed to me that he would like to change his name to John. His favorite game for many years—beginning when he was still unsteady on his feet—was called Captain on the Ship where his name was John. He and Jonah would rock each other endlessly on our backyard hammock—sailors at sea on rough waters, calling out the various dangers in the distance.

I couldn’t help but think about my great-grandfather, John Anderson, who I only recently have come to know more about—a ship-captain who had survived the storms of Cape Horn and the typhoons of the Indian Ocean only to die young transporting passengers on his personal vessel from Boston to the Long Island Sound.

Held deeply in the grips of the here-and-now, my focus is on Adrian in all of his current uniqueness and magnetic life-force, and yet, it was interesting to think about the parallels—about his seaworthy name with an origin meaning sea or water and to consider the mystery of how we come in and out of our existence—the potential for one soul to occupy many bodies over the span of time.

There may be no more-defining-role to be steeped-in than that between parent and child—not one of us exempt from some part of this dynamic.

From the moment of their births I have believed my children to be capable of teaching me at least as much as I am capable of imparting on them and still even with some vague sense that we might have traveled together before—perhaps in some other arrangement entirely—I have found myself swept up into the momentum of my current role as mother, a position I both love and cherish.

Even so, as I read about the possibility that our roles might in-fact (or in-theory) be interchangeable over lifetimes, I began experiencing a sense of peace and a freedom from the many—sometimes dogged—expectations that this role of mother and the many other roles I have engaged in can require.

Suddenly—that length of river to cross—seemed more manageable.

Without all of the baggage of who we are supposed to be for others—in both relationship and experience—everything becomes less-pressurized.

Without the concept of who we are expected to be, we are—paradoxically—freed to embody our original essence in all of its natural power and capacity.

These thoughts became the backdrop in my mind as we embarked on our weekend away. I found myself a little-less-defined as wife and mother and a little-more just-me, taking it all in.

It turns out the weekend was a practice-run for this looser way of viewing who we can be for each other and would be the answer I gave to my sister a few days later when she asked why I thought all of this was happening.

We are all just playing out various roles for one another across the span-of-time so that we can learn and grow.

I woke early the first morning and read some more until Adrian stirred. We slipped out of the room quietly in search of coffee and breakfast treats. In the lobby of the main building, Adrian found muffins, I tried out the flavored cream in my coffee and we set up a game of Chutes-and-Ladders where Adrian ventured to make the game more challenging—as he often does—by playing two pieces at once. Mid-way through, he accidently bumped my coffee and it spilled on the game. I ran to get napkins and quickly cleaned it up—only a small amount getting absorbed into the checkered, blue and cream couch pattern.

I listened to another guest talk loudly with the hospitality worker at the front desk. He had muscular arms, wore work-out clothing and I imagined he owned the black hummer at a neighboring cabin with a pink decal on the door advertising a personal training business. He was scheduling his next stay for the following summer.

He had children with him—twins—and he was bragging a little to the clerk about how accomplished they were at their sports—the girl a gymnast and the boy a hockey player. I thought about how he possessed hopes and dreams just like I do. I thought about how proud he seemed of what he had created—it was palpable.

I didn’t love the raucous sound of his voice in the early morning and I didn’t really want to talk to him all that much when he sought to include me in his conversation, but I felt a swell of love for our collective humanity and the wide array of forms in which we might show up.

Adrian beat me repeatedly in the game and we headed back to our room.

We skipped the beach on the first day and I left my vision for the weekend in the hotel room on the messy bed trying to land in the place where the beach was hard-to-get-to and the sun, hidden. We decided to walk a well-known stretch of pathway along the coastline surrounded by steep drop-offs.

We drove around looking for parking among the throngs of Labor Day revelers and a place to eat that wasn’t overflowing. We found a spot for both right at the entrance to the pathway.

In the spontaneity of my planning, I had completely forgotten that we had ever been to the beach-town where we were staying. As we were parking, I suddenly began remembering not one—but two—day trips we had made there.

Once we had come in the off-season when Jonah was an infant. We walked down a steep path to the shore careful not to slip on an icy surface, the air frigid. A second time we had driven down in the late summer on a warm evening to meet cousins for ice cream. The memory became vivid as I thought back to ordering a cone for a pre-schooler and toddler under a street light, reciting every flavor twice and negotiating toppings, way past bedtime.

Mid-way through the crowded walk, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and began heating up the air. I took off one of my layers and tied it around my waist. Jonah and Adrian ventured off the path onto a rocky shoreline where Jonah began lifting a large, fallen birch tree trunk and attempting to tip it into the water.

He and Adrian played for a long stretch finally getting the log into the water and then trying to get it back out again—perched from the top of a boulder. It looked both dangerous and engaging to the heart-and-soul of them. I felt apart from the many people walking—the tourists, taking in quintessential Maine—and for a moment, at home again.

We arrived at the river’s edge the following morning with as few belongings as we could manage for a day at the beach. The temperature was up and the tide was out and so there was no rowing required on this first passage.

We didn’t give all that much thought to how we would get back.

I walked barefoot across the drained riverbed pleasantly surprised by its relatively dry and firm surface given my experience living on a tidal shoreline where the low-tide surface becomes like a mixture of wet, gray clay and quick-sand that can steal away your shoes if you don’t move across it quickly.

We were on the opposite shore within less-than ten minutes. We climbed a steep set of stairs over the dunes and found the temperature on the other side distinctly cooler. Even so, we laid out our things close to the water—Jonah and Adrian grabbing their boards, running for the waves.

I eventually got in as well.

Our section of the beach was spacious and uncrowded. We bundled up and peeled away layers over and over as the sun disappeared and reemerged again and again. We sat in chairs low-to-the-ground and read and built sand castles and then trenches to keep the tide away and then finally watched as the waves became overwhelming to our work dragging it out in one final surge of the sea.

We left our things and walked a long way toward the town and the spot where we had entered the cliff-walk. We only carried a little money to buy a very-late lunch. The tide was in now and so the shoreline had shrunk incredibly—all of the people scrunched up into a small section of beach.

We walked around sand sculptures and took in the festive atmosphere—music playing, people living with abandon, free to be themselves. We made our way up to a row of food stands where the pavement radiated the day’s heat and warmed the soles of my feet. We found a table in the sun and soaked in the end-of-summer day, the warmth.

I looked down from where we were sitting and recognized the steep pathway where I had stood nearly ten years back with my first baby in my arms on a snowy day.

After eating, we made our way back through the masses of people and as we walked the crowd thinned and we eventually came upon a wide-open stretch of beach where many seagulls peppered the expanse burrowed down in the sand as if they were nesting.

We walked quietly past them trying to understand what they were doing and also attempting to avoid disturbing them.

We lingered a little while longer and then it was time to climb back up the stairs and over the dunes where we saw a woman coming toward us in a rowboat—the river filled-back up.

We approached her as if to trade places but then as she was exiting the boat with her own-two-sons, she began taking the oar with her away from the boat. When we asked her about it, she said the hotel manager had told her to do so in-order to ensure her passage back—something I likely would have known had I watched the video or read the fine print.

We called the front-desk to find out our options and eventually began walking along the river’s edge toward a distant bridge that we would need to cross on-foot in order to catch a trolley on the other side so that we could be transported back to the hotel property.

I have found—and it was true in this case—that cultivating a sense of spaciousness, and a bit of humor—can be extremely helpful in this kind of dicey moment when we must ask those around us to try a little harder—to push-on a little further—because of our own mistake or erroneous inner-story-telling, as was the case for me.

I picked up as much of the extra weight as I could—gathering up one of the wave boards—and encouraging us along with an awareness of the story-of-us unfolding. My husband valiantly carried the heaviest bag.

Soon we made it to the bridge.

We watched as an adventuresome child jumped off the side of the wooden railing into the river. On the other side, I helped Jonah and Adrian clean off the sand from their damp feet at the trolley stop so we could put on their sneakers to ride back to our room.

In the morning we decided to forgo crossing the river again and to instead head home with a stop in mind at another state-park beach along the way.

Just as we were leaving, I received a call from my sister. Our mother was very ill again—after being well for five years—and in need of our support and immediate care in another state.

Driving home, I thought more about the varied parts we enact for one-another throughout our lives and in many different scenarios in-order to engender growth.

I imagined gathering together the ways in which we show-up depending on the relationship and situation—wounded and strong and defiant and graceful and passionate and angry and calm.

I could see myself placing all of these qualities into a container, shaking them up, tossing them—high-up into the air—so that they might all get rearranged and then come drifting back down like the colorful, celebration-confetti that is our shared humanity.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. This is the 2nd. Thank you for staying with me. I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through the three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering. Thank you for all of your many good thoughts for her healing.

 

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“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”—Loren Eiseley

The sky is rumbling—ever-so-slightly and then boorishly—a steady, sonorous rain falling placidly, spread thin through lush, velvety-green, pine branches, landing upon lavender flower petals then making its way to the ground—drunk up by a thirsty earth grown parched from endless days of summer’s swelter.

The resting Buddha’s chalky-white surface transforms in the garden—gradually revealing itself as the wet, clay sculpture of its inception. I am reminded of a recent attempt to position Jonah and Adrian there next to the Buddha for a photograph marking their first day of school—to include the statue as one of my own, between the two of them.

They insisted on hiding her from the sight of the lens and sitting on her head and teasing me while I begged them to move to either side of her, laughing and finally giving up.

They love nothing more than to turn my attempts at keeping them in some-sort-of-order into bubbling amusement—sometimes my eyes will change from serious to lit-up, along with the hint of a smile, in response to their innocent preference for fun and antics. Jonah—especially—revels in pointing out this shift.

It makes me smile, now, thinking about them. Remembering all of the many ways they challenge me—the way they still need me and yet covet their burgeoning independence like a shiny, precious jewel nestled in a little pouch within their heart-space—pulsing out the colors and rhythms of their lives—Jonah in his graceful, cerulean dance with destiny, Adrian marching forth, staff in hand, grounded and golden.

Seagull feathers from countless days of beach-combing are scattered about the front porch—wide spaces flare outward between the curling, silvery barbs. I admire their gnarly appeal—textured and engrossing in their imperfection and think about the stark contrast of these castaways with the delicate plume that I keep in my car with its smooth surface and intricate design.

I rubbed it across my cheek recently in comparison, experiencing its softness and considering how-on-earth the thick and sturdy quill could ever have been attached to an actual bird.

I used to have a rule for myself that I must submerge my being in any body of water I came across. With the exception of New York Harbor and the East River—when I lived near these two heavily-trafficked and perhaps less-than-cleanly waterways—this held true for nearly a decade.

It didn’t matter the season or the temperature or the circumstances, although, I was no member of a Polar Bear Club.

I viewed the presence of water—of rivers and ponds and lakes and especially the ocean—as evidence of the miraculous. I thought of them as sacred spaces infused with a higher energy that could only be manifested by an intelligent, creative consciousness.

I especially felt drawn to saltwater and while a dip-in-a-lake could feel nice there was nothing that could quite compare to the presence of salt left-gritty on the surface of my skin—the stickiness of its residence in my hair, the remnants of its grounding force upon my heart.

It felt like a violation of my soul to pass up the opportunity to make contact with something that felt so holy. I rarely articulated anything like this to anyone around me. I was just a free-spirit—a wild child—with a rose-colored, magic bag and an extra set of clothes wherever I went.

I didn’t always swim but I always got in—at least up to my knees or thighs if I could hike a skirt up. Living in the northeast, it meant many experiences diving into frigid liquid and then quickly reemerging—breathless from the cold.

I especially loved the way icy water would make my heart race—like I’d just run a marathon but without all of the effort. It always felt worthwhile, as if I had stroked a wild animal across the forehead.

I cannot remember the exact moment in which I allowed this self-imposed directive to fall away, although I do know it at least in-part had to do with the discomfort of changing diapers, cold and shivering, in a wet bathing suit. To be clear, I did still go into water—especially warm water—but I had become more timid, more motherly about it.

I imagine it must have been a gradual release to have let-go-of something so intrinsic to who I was in those years.

That usually is the way of change—over time, slowly, the manner in which we proceed through life, transforms us.

We become something new—without even knowing it.

In Maine, the beaches vary greatly in their qualities and substance. If you’ve seen one, you have not seen them all.

There is one beach I’ve long considered a favorite that appears like a desert in its breadth of sand. I ventured there often when Jonah and Adrian were pre-school age—this was before I discovered the closer path to the shoreline. I would layer-up with a backpack and our lunches and blankets and buckets—and sometimes even Adrian up on my hip—and trudge like a camel slowly across the football-field length of sand shouting out encouragement to Jonah who lagged behind me with his wave board on a string.

We’re almost there!

The destination tide pool appeared like a mirage in the distance.

The beauty there is vast and will take your breath away in the late afternoon when the sun dips down and the water mirrors light—like glass—and your child walks silhouetted back to the car.

Another beach—across the bridge where enormous Navy ships are constructed—has large rolling waves, long stretches of soft, white sand lined with sun-bleached driftwood and a frigid lagoon with a current running through it. It seems like you might be able to ride the current like a water-slide but it’s an illusion and just beneath the surface are a path of jagged rocks.

There are beaches with large collections of shells and some with extremely shiny, vibrant stones. There are even beaches that feel like lakes with higher water temperatures and only the slightest sound of lapping-water on the shore.

In the last weeks before the start of school it was tempting to begin counting down—to get organized—to shop and re-establish a bedtime routine. I decided to forgo almost all of that. I recognized the call of my spirit to instead prepare for the coming, colder months and the more in-breath existence with one last monumental outbreath and the application of a thick layer of salt and warmth on the many sheaths of me.

I decided that Jonah and Adrian would benefit from the same.

We managed to traverse one beach or another for a long stretch of days in a row—doing the work of packing and driving and loading and unloading the car and piling sandy towels and bathing suits into the washing machine late into the night only to rise and do just the same the following day.

On the first of those days—ears all-filled-up with the long-summer sounds of bantering brothers—I strolled alone down a nearly empty stretch of sand re-discovering my breath and sweeping away the debris that had been building in my body and mind.

As I walked, I noticed the spaces within me—especially within my chest—expanding and my tanned, bare feet sinking more deeply into the soft, warm sand.

I stopped occasionally to notice where I was exactly—in a magnificent place on an incredible planet.

I watched Jonah and Adrian in the distance—marionettes leaping along the water’s edge. Strolling back, I bent down every now-and-then to collect a feather—this beach particularly full of them.

Finally reaching Jonah and Adrian, I told them I was coming in.

The water couldn’t have been more that 50-something degrees as is common in some parts of Maine. I inched my way in—icy cold waves meeting me at the shins, then the waist. My sons beckoned me to jump in more quickly—balking at my trepidation. I lifted my ribcage up long and away from the waves, stood on my tippy-toes trying to put off the inevitable chill and then suddenly—realizing the futility of my efforts—I dove into the crest of a large wave. The powerful swirl of water curled over me, pulling at my bathing suit and elevating my heart rate fast. Emerging, I could taste salt on my lips as I struggled to stand up—readjusting my suit and looking to make sure my boys were safe.

I was both incredibly aware of the frigid water and in some ways not experiencing it at all.

I was in it but not fully succumbing to its numbing potential. The shivers would come later.

Sometimes at night, I will put my hand on Jonah’s chest and ask him how his heart is. It’s my way of inquiring whether he feels the need to close-himself-off to this sometimes-harsh world.

I massage my hand quickly back and forth across his chest as if I could vibrate away any pain he might be experiencing in living.

Being tossed about in the waves felt like someone had done that to me—like they had shaken my heart free from all that was gripping it.

Driving home the car was quiet—Jonah engrossed in a book, Adrian gazing out the window.

I didn’t know then that I would be drawn into the sea again-and-again in a series of saltwater baptisms at each of the many beach-outings we made in the coming days. I am less inclined at this point in my life to make hard-and-fast rules for myself and so in that moment I was only aware of that single, nourishing communion with the waves and it, alone, was enough.

The fields of goldenrod lining the seagrass marshes on the road home seemed to glow in the path of diminishing light and the occasional tall bursts of ironweed splashed their vibrant-purple hues across the landscape like an end-of-summer firework finale.

 

 

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“That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility.”—Rumi

It is a cool and foggy morning in Maine—the air thick with the memory of a midnight downpour.

The sudden deluge awakened me with a start—the windows open and ushering in the sound of a powerful rain that seemed to be turned on like a faucet in full-force.

I had fallen asleep on my back with my hands over my heart—one on top of the other. I had been soaking in an awareness of the quiet—of the stillness in my being—and inviting the boundaries of my body to fall away.

Bones and cartilage and organs—and all the rest of it—separating into tiny, microscopic cells, drifting apart and dividing until there was no longer any matter to contain me.

I saw this especially in the places where I experience pain—the high-sensation of contraction surrendering its influence when expanded into pure-energy. Ancient stories about who I am and what I deserve are no-match for infinite-consciousness—at least for this brief moment of awareness sans a couple of burgeoning boys tugging at my sleeve.

I had fallen into the space just-shy-of-sleep noticing the way our original essence—my original essence—goes beyond the confines of the body, despite all-of-our-insistence on our physical form being a vessel for the soul.

In stillness I could recognize the way our personal energies continue on beyond what we might normally think of as ourselves and are met and mingled with the vitalities of others—those both in our midst, and even those far away.

Between you and me is a temple that we form together—each pair of us. You place what-you-will-about-me inside the collecting place out there in the middle of us and I will place what-I-will-about-you inside that place as well and something will be born out of it.

We can only contribute to the nature of our-half-of-the-creation. Let us strive to construct our part with the hardy materials of freedom and deep-listening and with allowing.

Let us see how it feels to focus on our part alone.

Startled by the sudden cascade of rain, my heart was beating fast as I got up to close the windows part-of-the-way and turn the bathroom light on in case Adrian came stumbling down the hallway—as he sometimes does—awakened by the bursting cloud.

Back in bed I experienced the storm differently now—more gently.

The rain was slowing-down or I was more aligned with its presence.

I thanked it for watering all of the new trees and shrubs in our yard—yet to be planted—and listened as it flowed through the gutter on the side of the house like a rolling stream and soon I drifted back to sleep.

Jonah and Adrian were dressed alike when I signed-them-in for soccer camp this morning. A cool mist grazed our skin as we walked through the parking lot—their new, stiff, black cleats with the fluorescent-green stripes clicking and clacking on the pavement.

Jonah began dribbling his silver ball—a size 4—that he picked out at a sporting goods store. Adrian held his neon-green ball, a bit smaller—his initials printed with a permanent marker just above the barcode.

Having just returned from being away, we were low on food and so after drop-off I stopped at a small, natural-food store to pick up a few things on my way home.

This store was the first place we had stopped when we moved to Maine from New York City. I remember imagining what it would be like to be a regular patron in such a nourishing space.

Despite the cool morning, the store was air-conditioned so after finding a cart I reached into my bag for another layer and pulled it on.

Just when I looked up I recognized someone I knew entering the store—a former caregiver who had looked after Jonah and Adrian occasionally for many years and whom I didn’t see often.

She had been a treasured friend to our children—introducing them to Pete the Cat and Jan Brett and it’s ok to cry but it’s also ok to stop—and now walking in she had a baby of her own hiked-up on her hip like a pro.

Both of our faces—and my heart—lit up when we saw each other.

Her son shares her lovely, brown eyes and her presence remained warm and introspective.

She is one of those people who makes you feel better for having been around her.

I had always loved that when she spoke it seemed she really meant what she said. She mentioned that she was on the side of motherhood now that I had been on when we first met.

We stood at the entrance and talked for a long time. We jumped right to the depths of sharing.

Sitting in the cart, her son offered me his bare foot and I rubbed the silky top of it. A few minutes later he stuck it out again for more and I got a glimpse of his two, little baby teeth on the bottom row.

She told me that she had written a letter to me in her head on many car-rides but hadn’t had the chance to send one in real life.

I could feel that I had received her thoughts regardless of whether they had made it to paper.

I’ve written so-many-letters-in-my-head in that very way and can only hope the messages have landed where I’ve intended them—like hers did in me.

After we said goodbye, I turned for just a moment to the produce section, moved forward and then felt drawn to look across the room where I recognized another soul-sister who I hadn’t seen in a very long while.

There was more lighting-up and putting arms around a kindred-spirit in an embrace.

I have loved this friends’ capacity for awe in our exchanges.

She has a way of opening her mouth just slightly and widening her sparkly, blue eyes in response to the magic that always seems to show up between us.

Despite the time that had passed—and the relatively short chapter we had spent together—there was an immediate knowing in our shared energy.

I told her I didn’t think I had come to the store for food after all but that it was for these crossings-of-paths that I had come. She shared that she and her daughter had planned to stop at the store after going swimming but had suddenly decided to come in then instead.

I have been thinking about whether it has all been said—whether it can all ever be said—about how exquisite this life is in both its beautiful simplicity and in its complex connectivity.

It reminds me of observing my children when they have just awakened—their bodies radiating heat from sleep in their warm beds, their cheeks soft and relaxed. With heavy eyes—partly still in another realm—they’ll whisper to me will I rub their backs and I do so willingly getting more from the experience probably than them.

Later, they will ask me about the bounds of the Universe—the Multiverse—and inquire about whether I think invasive species are a part of the food chain—they’re not, Mom.

I go on noticing because it turns all-of-the-lights-on-in-me, radiating warmth in the places I need it most, and illuminating the way forward.

 

 

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“Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind singing in your veins.”—John Welwood

The serving plates and bowls had been washed and tucked away late into the night—hidden in narrow cabinets and sliding drawers until Thanksgiving—the list of what to buy to feed everyone slipped into the recycling bin.

The stillness of the house that next early-morning had the feeling of Summer drawing-open the curtains and strolling into the backyard for a long and undisturbed rest in the shade—The New Yorker magazine tucked under her arm for a leisurely read.

Jonah and Adrian meandered down the stairs in the late morning like droopy, rag-dolls with soiled, grass-stained feet, the glow of sparklers lingering still within their midst.

Slowly, we gathered up library books scattered about the house—some in a pile on a bench by the bookshelf, others in a spring-green shopping bag hanging by the back door.

I felt relieved and like my shoulders hung a little softer for having upheld a family tradition once again—knowing my children rely on the event for marking time, for understanding their unique place in the world.

The trunk of my car was filled with recycling and returnable cans and bottles. I planned to drop off the cardboard boxes and papers but to wait on cashing in our returns.

I thought we were all feeling too-lazy to navigate the somewhat messy return process. I imagined we would avoid the crowd of last night’s revelers who might be doing the same.

Eager for some pocket-change, Jonah encouraged the exchange.

When we arrived at the grocery store the air was thick and heavy with heat—intensified by the asphalt parking lot. I soaked in the warmth on my bare, freckled arms and helped each boy to a black, plastic bag from the trunk—Jonah got the heavier one.

The boys walked slightly ahead of me knowing where the machines were. I captured the image of them in my mind—each with their load slung over their shoulder—Adrian in his favorite grey sports shorts with the florescent stripe on the side and his pale-yellow shirt, Jonah tossing his long hair back with the flip of his head.

Inside, their arms disappeared fully into the damp bags—bending to the side, dipping-in and grabbing a can or bottle and then reaching up to slide it onto the conveyor belt of the machine located just above their heads.

Sometimes the receptacles would get spun around and around and then rejected only to be pushed-in once again by the persistence of four small, but eager, hands.

A couple of tall men with a cart full of cans waited behind us as we navigated the machines. I imagined they were father and son.

Adrian finished first—a small collection of liquid pooling like a narrow balloon at the bottom of his bag. With the more-full load, Jonah was becoming weary of the dampness on his arm and asked me to finish for him.

I reached in—trying to pick up my pace—cognizant of the others in line. I quickly understood his discomfort as I took over, the stench of empty bottles palpable. Before I could get to the last can, Jonah and Adrian had pushed the finish button to collect our receipts.

I took the remaining can and popped it into the shopping cart behind us, thanking the men for their patience.

After collecting our money—just shy of three dollars—we made our way to the bathroom to the right of the customer service counter to clean the sticky layer off of our arms.

Jonah went into the men’s room and I walked further down the hallway to the women’s room—Adrian shuffled between us in the two places.

I rubbed Pepto Bismol-pink soap into my palms and all the way up my right arm and then rinsed it off with cool water, drying with a paper towel.

When I came out, Jonah and Adrian were standing wide-eyed in front of a collection of colorful gumball and candy machines and turned to me with their puppy-dog eyes.

Can we use our money to get something?

 I smiled and gave them the bad news as gently as I could, ushering them back down the hallway and out into the penetrating sun.

Contentment hung between us like a sundress on a clothesline in a cool breeze as we climbed back into the car.

I thought about the time my sisters and I had gotten gumballs at a grocery story as children—no concern about food dyes then, blue 1 or red 40.

My younger sister was about four-years-old and we had all just piled into the car after shopping—large wads of gum occupying our entire mouths, exercising the strength of our jaws with their stale stiffness.

All of a sudden—having forgotten about the purchase from a machine with a dime and the twist of a metal handle—my mother looked into the rearview mirror catching a glimpse of my little sister’s lips, painted a purpley-blue from the dye of the gum.

She gasped at the site—not making the connection with the gum—and became panicked thinking my sister was turning blue from some sort of lack of oxygen.

I don’t remember how she—how we all—realized it was the gum and not asphyxiation causing the transformation in my sister’s appearance.

It put a scare into us all thinking she couldn’t breathe—we can laugh about it now.

At the library we piled up a little cart with loads of books—we’ve yet to be limited by the staff despite our voracious desire for words. I chose a few picture-books that interested me and got comfortable in a soft, burgundy chair—waiting for my boys to join me.

I thought about kicking off my flip-flops, then didn’t.

One of the books described the transformation of a mother’s closeness with her children over time.

It reminded me of this idea I have of my heart being tied snuggly to the hearts of my children—a big crimson-red ball of yarn between us—and how, as they grow, the fiber unwinds creating greater and greater distances yet keeping us bound together.

I imagine a time when the cord might drape between mountain ranges and across continents— laid out across vast landscapes, only some of them literal.

I am counting on a tight weave for a durability that will weather the distances of a lifetime.

Adrian’s favorite of the stories I selected was the one with the wild illustrations of a lion with big expressions trying to teach some other animals about presence. It was the turtle who understood best in the end—isn’t it always the slower-paced among us who reveal themselves as masters?

We added it to our collection to bring home.

Suddenly we were all famished. I was praying that the taco truck would be parked by the big field and it was.

The car was so hot, the boys insisted I roll down all of the windows and start the air conditioner before getting in. We were sweaty still when we found a parking spot right next to the favorite food truck—the line short enough.

We stood on the sidewalk and I layered Jonah up with the bag of library books and Adrian with our orange, picnic blanket that hangs from a strap. I gave them a twenty-dollar bill and told them to go for the lemonade from the stand down the street and then to find a place in the shade to spread the blanket out while I got our lunch.

In line, I watched as they strolled down the sidewalk together—each weighted down with the things I had given them, the red-line dangling loosely between us.

I have been insisting they carry more and more.

They got to the stand, looked-up at the menu-board, exchanged a few words between them and then Jonah came walking briskly back toward me until he was close enough where he could shout-to-me and I could hear him.

Can we get a root-beer float instead?

No!

Jonah dashed back to Adrian and placed their order while Adrian bounced the blanket against his little legs.

Loaded up with drinks, they managed to spread the blanket next to a tall pine tree on the edge of the field just a few feet from where I was still waiting. I was surprised they had chosen a spot so near—the entire field peppered with shade.

I could see their sneakers on the blanket poking out from the side of the truck and breathed easier knowing they were within my reach.

After lunch I laid back on the blanket—propping myself up on my bag—and looked up and across the lawn at a giant oak tree.

It had thin and spindly branches for arms—giving it the quality of a wise elder with a cane—and boasted copious, flourishing moss-green leaves.

The heat hovered heavy and still all around us—like truth spoken quietly in a loud room.

A very-slight fluttering of the leaves in the distance caught my attention and I felt a thin ribbon of air graze my skin.

It seemed unlikely that the air-pressure would build from there but then I noticed a mounting energy and thought about the nature of this invisible force endlessly reflecting the relationship between conflicting pressures within our atmosphere.

One of the large, wider branches with its dancing leaves began to flap slowly and powerfully like an eagle’s wing pumping air in slow motion—the breeze mounting.

I pointed out the contrast between movement and the stillness and coaxed Jonah and Adrian to lie back onto the blanket with me so that they might experience the tiny hairs raising up upon their own skin.

Like conductors—or sport’s announcers—we pointed out what we saw and felt as the leaves began to flutter—just slightly—ushering in a bigger movement and ultimately a welcome relief to our sweaty skin.

We waited for it again and again—in all of its subtlety—delivering a gentle breath-to-the-day and landing us on a patch of earth, in a sleepy town, side-by-side.

 

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“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”—Brené Brown

I selected the parks option for a search on the GPS and found a match a few miles away.

With too-little time to travel home and back before camp-pickup I followed a hilly, winding road to a new spot in a neighboring town where many of the homes are surrounded by enormous boulders.

These mammoth rocks have been left alone and integrated into landscaping plans—dense and vibrating with the story of another place and time—likely transported via glacier tens-of-thousands of years ago.

Situated around some of the houses they appear like dinosaurs—curled up for an afternoon nap.

It is so breezy here in this unfamiliar spot.

I’ve gone back into my car for a favorite sweatshirt—worn soft over years —and put on a snug baseball cap to keep my hair from blowing all around.

I’m listening to the steady tick of a sprinkler watering the field beside me—every now and then catching a glimpse of its rounded, liquid arch. The water seems to break off from the end of the stream and shoot forward into a powerful collection of drops—pausing—then raining down onto the grass.

Once in a while the breeze will carry a slight mist my way that I can smell more than I can feel.

It reminds me of running through sprinklers as a child just after the lawn had been mowed—the fresh-cut grass sticking to my bare feet, to my shins.

A large robin digs for a worm down the little hill to my left and then flies off abruptly—startled by a yellow Labrador Retriever with a ball in her mouth running toward me.

A miniscule, florescent-pink spider sprints across my computer screen like he’s late for a flight.

I am often surprised to discover vibrant hues like his—that seem like they belong more in the color-palette of man—manifested in nature.

I try to use a piece of chipped, grey paint from the picnic table to lure the spider off of my laptop so I can get a closer look. He’s moving so fast and keeps avoiding the paint chip but does finally crawl up onto my thumb and quickly begins racing toward my wrist.

I move away from the table out into the sun to try to see him up close—he’s so tiny—but then I have to blow him off of me just before he goes scurrying up my long sleeve, afraid I might lose him beneath my clothing.

We live in such an enchanting world.

It can be so easy to forget and brush by the faces of insects and trees, subway riders and bus drivers, the nurse taking our pulse, the child waiting hopefully at the lemonade stand—our own dear face looking back at us in the mirror.

Don’t let it be said that you are anything but dear.

It can be so easy to let it all pass-us-by while we fret about—you name it.

Let our preoccupation be instead about seeing one another—and ourselves—in the light-of-day, for all that we are.

I say a lot to my children about what they eat or don’t eat—probably more than I should.

It has to do with my own powerful reaction to what I consume.

It has to do with how much I love them and reminds me of the definition of the word sweater as given by the writer Ambrose Bierce, “a garment worn by a child when his mother is feeling chilly.”

Recently I was trying to justify my encouragement of more eating-of-dinner to Jonah and Adrian.

They were in a hurry to get back outside.

I tried to describe to them the relationship between food and mood. That was my initial thought, at least.

I fully recognize the experience of well-being is not that simple for a whole lot of people, myself included at times.

Did you know if you are ever really, really sad you can ask yourself a couple of questions to understand why you might be feeling that way?

They perked right up to what I was beginning to say—It’s mind-boggling to me how sometimes my voice can be to them like that of the Charles Shulz Wah Wah language for adults and other times they seem to devour my words like water absorbed by the thirsty roots of a plant.

This was one of those lucky moments when their attention led me to believe that what I was about to say might somehow soak into their subconscious and be retrieved later in life when they needed it.

I shared that if they were ever really sad they could ask themselves, When was the last time I ate? What did I eat? Was it sugary? Have I had any protein?

Before I could go on, Adrian—my seven-year-old—interrupted me.

Actually, first you should be sure you have had something to drink—drinking is more important than eating. 

Touché.

He was right. Hydration is critical, so we agreed questions about both eating and drinking would be helpful.

Jonah was waiting his turn to speak but I could see he wanted to jump into the conversation.

Together we all quickly went to the question of rest.

Eat. Drink. Sleep.

Have I slept? Have I been getting enough sleep for a few days?

 It was clear to us all that sleeping was an important component in feeling good.

This is where I thought it got interesting.

My first impulse when I posed the question was to point out the connection between how we treat our bodies and how we feel in our emotional state.

Jonah took the inner-reflection to another level and led us into a deeper discussion than I had intended.

He proposed that we ask ourselves, have I been kind?

This sort of blew me away.

Wow. Yes. How we treat others affects our well-being. Have I helped anyone recently?

Next, I began thinking about how exercise contributes to the production of endorphins and well-being when Jonah said we should ask ourselves the question, have I been outside?

We all got excited about our collective need for access to fresh-air, sunshine and natural beauty in order to feel grounded.

Jonah said that he thought of being outside and exercise as the same and then he said, what about asking whether you have been learning anything new?

This was something I hadn’t thought of and agreed contributes to a sense of purpose.

They had taken my one question and run with it.

Suddenly I thought about a practice I had shared with Jonah and Adrian a long time ago that has been an integral part of our daily connection.

I wondered if they would remember as I began hinting, there is one more thing that you can check-in on if you are feeling really, really sad.

Jonah was sitting to my left at the head of the table.

He sat back in his chair—slightly away—thinking.

Adrian was across from me on his knees on his chair—elbows propped up on the table, hands at his chin.

His hazel eyes sparkled searching for the answer—wanting so-much to be first.

They were both on the verge of getting it when Adrian shouted out, hugs!

Yes, if you are feeling really, really sad you should make sure you have had a hug from someone you love!

As the boys ran back out to play—dropping their dinner-dishes loudly into the sink, silverware clanking—I thought about how hard it can be to reach out to others—even those we love—when we are struggling.

I thought about how above all of the things we discussed, this can be the most critical for remembering who we are—maybe especially, for boys and men.

I thought about what it means to have access to all of these things for both children and adults—clean food and water, a present and nurturing family, a safe place to sleep and play.

I hoped that our discussion might somehow be planting seeds that would blossom into my two sons never feeling so alone that they think they have to go-it-alone.

There is a soft, white and blue floral rug on the floor in front of our kitchen sink.

At the baseboard level there is a brown heating vent that can be turned on to boost heat so that on frigid, winter mornings in Maine when I am standing at the sink, the heater will blow a powerful rush of warm air keeping my feet toasty.

When my cat Autumn was in her last days I would sit there on that gentle surface in front of the heater with her in my lap warming us both.

I have eaten food there—like I’m having a little picnic, my back against the vent.

I have called the boys there at times—when their play has made our living room feel more like a gymnasium or boxing ring than a home—so we can have a meeting of the minds on a padded surface.

This morning I asked Adrian for a hug before he left for camp and he came over to me where I was standing on the rug loading dishes into the dishwasher. He rarely hugs me in the typical way and instead wraps his entire body around one of my legs and begins sort-of hanging on me like I’m a tree branch.

This morning was no exception.

I came down onto my knees to be at his level and to be more-steady so he wouldn’t pull me over. We hugged—there on the rug—and he remembered our conversation from before.

The sun has burst forth and hid behind the low-draping clouds again and again since I arrived here in this breezy place.

A flurry of spiders has visited me at the covered picnic table including one who was bright-yellow with long legs and several who were thicker, black and compact—one finding its way to the brim of my hat.

It turned out to be a spidery place.

Before packing up my things, I left it all at the table and walked barefoot across the field—a wide open expanse of space, expanding-the-spaces-in-me.

The ground was lush with mushrooms and clover—the cool damp soil, soaking my feet.

I counted six more robins scattered across the field in two’s, their work made easier by the soft ground. Each time I got near to a pair they would take flight—showing off a burst of burnt-orange feathers tucked between grey.

The clouds were spread out across the pale-blue sky. I tipped my head back and upward taking in the space and the air—damp and fragrant with the sweet smell of summer.

 

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”—J.R.R. Tolkien

There are four, colorful boxes of incense tucked away in the kitchen on a high shelf in the cabinet where I keep the coffee and the spring-green, leaf-shaped plates.

I can just barely reach the basket where I keep them if I go up on tippy-toes and extend my arm so my shoulder rolls forward—grabbing it with the tops of my fingers.

The rectangular containers are labeled with the attributes each particular aroma is meant to invoke—strength, power, balance, devotion.

I’ve been carrying around the basket that contains them for going on twenty years—it has found a purpose in three or four apartments and now—for nine years—in our home in Maine.

I have no recollection how I came upon it—neither time nor place—yet, I know it has been with me forever. It’s remarkable the way the hay-colored fibers have remained tightly wound almost like they are newly woven.

I am most drawn to the lavender box of incense within the basket—still in the old design—and its call for balance.

Yesterday’s moderation in all things is today’s aspiration for living a life weighted equally all around—a balancing scale—one side mostly-effort, the other mostly-ease.

I select the devotion incense most—drawing out a single, thin strand of the biotic material from the powder-blue box, placing it upright in the crimson, ceramic container on the counter’s ledge and connecting a flame with the tip.

I allow the fire to burn for a moment and look-on as it dies out on its own—transforming into a smoky balm—washing over me as I engage in the subtle, inner-practice of acknowledging the unseen.

Choosing devotion, I call to mind—and into my heart—a sense of what it means to co-create a life with a driving force I cannot quantify.

I call to that still space within a loving—a nourishing—energy that at the end-of-the-day I can turn to and whisper, you saw all that, right?

 I don’t know how they decide which scent—which herbs and oils—are attributed to these various ways of being—strong or powerful, balanced or devoted.

I do notice that the single act of calling-to-mind these qualities—of pausing to notice their residence no matter the depth at which they have been buried—is an invitation to embody aspects of the human-spirit—that I, that we all—might otherwise reject or deny.

I hadn’t planned to spend the late-morning and the early-part of the afternoon unraveling a tangled web of yarn.

Jonah and Adrian learned to finger-knit in nursery school and later they each created their own knitting needles as a part of their 1stgrade, handwork class.

They took pride in constructing and sanding the wooden needles, but neither of them love knitting with them—it’s hard for their small hands and especially for their quick-thinking minds.

Adrian likes to keep me abreast of where everyone in his class is on the rows of knitting they have undertaken for their tea cozy or the flute case.

This friend is already on their red! Another student has just begun the green row!

They do adore yarn and have asked me to buy another skein every time we have visited a craft store for several years.

I have exhibited anything but balance in my response.

I have been downright indulgent in the amount of yarn I have purchased for our household given my own low-level, knitting capability.

I am drawn to the meditative stance of creating stiches, however, my technical skills are limited.

My creative path has always relied heavily on intuition and been light on technique—although I do truly value both.

In our bountiful collection of yarn, we have orange and black yarn purchased around Halloween for hanging decorations. There was blue and white yarn added to the pumpkin-color when we ventured to create NY Mets bracelets. We have yarn that is more like the weight of string and changes back and forth between a few colors that look like candy. And there is some really fluffy, higher-quality yarn in the mix that was chosen for its soft texture and the vision that it would make for a lovely scarf that has yet to come to life.

To my surprise, Adrian once requested purple yarn for a rainbow creation he was making—just after he refused to wear this same-colored, soccer shirt because he thought it was too girly.

We have been keeping the yarn in two shopping bags hung in the cabinets in the mudroom beside the yellow, rain overalls.

I pulled them out today with the intention of organizing the contents so that Jonah and Adrian could more readily access the yarn for use this summer in their various creations.

I invited Adrian to join me.

Like most children, his love-language is time-spent-together and I hoped to both fill up his little body with togetherness and also to make some sense of the tangled mess.

Jonah remained curled up—reading on the couch—while Adrian eagerly agreed to join me.

We spread the chromatic chaos across the living room floor and wondered how the yarn had become so-very-tangled.

It appeared as if someone had placed a cake-mixer into the bag and spun the yarn all around like batter.

Adrian worked with me for an hour or more. We developed a system in which he would begin rolling a single strand of yarn—starting with an end we’d found in the jumbled pile.

He would roll the ball for as long as he could until he ran into a tangle.

Then he would hand the tangled part to me and I would shake out the various strands—haphazardly—until everything loosened up and we could find a pathway for his winding line to come loose and continue.

We celebrated the little-wins of completing a single ball—even the really small ones made from scrap yarn.

There were times when the yarn was so knotted or trapped within the many channels that I decided to cut it free with scissors—sacrificing, for our sanity, the potentially larger ball we could have constructed.

Adrian drifted-off to play with Jonah and I continued working even though I had not planned to spend so much of my day engaged with fiber.

I found one grouping of lines that were attached in such a way that they reminded me of a cat’s cradle string game.

I held up the pattern and looked through the geometric openings at Jonah and Adrian playing cards at the table outlined in various shades of blue from the multi-toned arrangement.

They didn’t notice.

Suddenly, my body became chilled.

Houses in Maine have a way of staying cool in the summer despite the higher temperatures and the fervent sun heating up tomato plants in gardens across the state.

It’s as if a sliver of winter hides out—nestled inside behind the wood stoves—occasionally spreading her coolness as a reminder of her status as most prominent season.

Gathering a particularly difficult entanglement, I went out to the front porch where it felt a good 10 degrees warmer.

Sitting on the front steps, my long-sleeves quickly seemed redundant under the sun’s glare as I attempted to find a way out of the mayhem in my grasp.

After a while, my efforts began to feel futile and my back started to hurt.

I knew this wasn’t a project I was going to finish in a single day and finally decided to give myself a break.

I went back inside and separated the balls we had completed and piled everything else back into the two bags, leaving them on the side of the room to be dealt with later.

I thought about how much this process of sorting out the yarn—and especially the many, colorful, tangled pathways—reminded me of the complexity of the inner journey, of doing the work of living.

It reminded me of what it means to follow the threads of our lives both backward and forward noticing how and where things began and the places where we run into hang-ups.

At times we grow with the help of others—often solitude is needed.

Celebrating any breakthroughs—no matter the breadth—fuels our ability to thrive.

Cutting our losses is sometimes necessary—releasing things and ways-of-life and people, even, that are keeping us stuck—freeing us up for continuing onward.

Sometimes working through a knot is warranted.

More than anything, I noticed how important it is to be gentle about the need to get somewhere—to finish.

Neither life nor the unraveling of knots are destination events.

Any beauty I have found in living has all been about dropping into the very moment before me—right there where the tangles and the pathways live—and finding a way to breathe, to breathe through it all.

 

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“They say it’s your birthday! It’s my birthday too!”—The Beatles

On this end-of-May, day—forty-five years ago—I arrived into the world at the tail-end of a trend of many women giving birth without dads in delivery rooms.

My father was with my mother through much of her labor but then just as I was about to emerge, she was rolled away into an operating room—bright lights all around.

When he first laid eyes on me, the forceps had been sterilized and put away and I had been bathed and wrapped in a soft, pink blanket—looking slightly bruised from the journey.

Afterward, he headed back to the house where a neighbor was looking after my sister and then came and went from the hospital in the next few days as my mother recovered.

This was before the time of drive-thru deliveries and returning home and being on your own sometimes within hours of giving birth.

On one of those days—and for many hours—my mother looked again and again at the watch on her small wrist, wondering where my father was.

He hadn’t shown up when he said he would.

I’m not sure why she didn’t call or even if she could have.

Much later—when he finally arrived—he explained that he had gotten caught-up mowing the lawn and that my grandmother was cooking chicken paprikash and so he couldn’t leave until she was finished but he was there now and oh look at the baby!

My father can be very charming—distracting from the topic at hand—and he does also go to great lengths to prioritize a well-kept lawn and fine food.

This is to say, my mother believed him—that he had lost track of time.

He had actually been across town at the children’s hospital with my sister—then, two years old—where she was having her stomach pumped of my aunt’s thyroid medication—swallowed, while unattended in the bathroom, in the time before helicopter parenting and safety lids.

It wasn’t until my mother came home from the hospital a few days later and was walking up a sidewalk toward the house that she discovered the truth.

My sister—with her platinum-blond hair and likely mismatched outfit—was sitting on the front steps waiting to greet us.

As my mother approached, she lifted her little arm up to show my mom the hospital tag around her tiny wrist.

Mommy, look at my bracelet!

That was just-the-start of all of the twists and turns of living that have transpired in these last four and a half decades.

In some ways it seems I’ve only just begun to get my bearings and come to understand what living is about.

In other ways it seems as if every-single-step-upon-this-path—and every misstep for that matter—has had a distinct purpose and been adding up to this very moment in time.

It can be tempting on birthdays to wish for something monumental to happen—a surprise, a thoughtful gift, a message from a long-lost friend.

It can be tempting to believe or project the opposite, as well—to brush aside the idea that a single-day-in-a-year can hold any particular relevance and insist instead on the normalcy of this truly miraculous event that marks the beginning of a life.

To discover a balance between the two seems like an apropos metaphor for the grand act of living as a whole.

Rising early on Sunday—sitting cross-legged on my couch in the quiet—I leaned forward to reach for my coffee perched on the leather ottoman bought a few years back to prevent head injury in wrestling children falling from the sofa.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of our fox.

It was the mother—the healthier of the two who have been making themselves comfortable on our property these last months, their den likely constructed nearby.

Her face was very still and staring distinctly down the stretch of lawn on one side of our house.

I thought maybe she was trying to decide whether it was safe to pass-through.

Then I noticed a rustling behind her.

I knew she had two pups—we had seen them on another day frolicking in our yard, fearless and naïve to the world around them.

I thought maybe she was holding them back standing there.

I decided to quietly get up and retrieve my binoculars from a closet across the room.

I knew it was risky.

I had barely risen from the couch when she heard me and began to move.

I knew in an instant what had been going on.

She had been standing there nursing her pups.

She began first trotting across the lawn, the little foxes still attached trying to get one last drink.

Then she began to run.

One small fox released itself and got its footing quickly and ran with her, away.

The other sat there dazed having been knocked loose.

His body language said, what just happened?

I remember having to suddenly stop nursing my own children at times—in a restaurant or some other inconvenient place—and them looking up at me with a similar, confused expression.

It reminds me of how it can be sometimes living out the human experience—confusing, disorienting, abrupt.

We do all eventually find our way—even when this doesn’t seem to be the case.

There is no right way, either.

This I have come to know.

A towering birch tree with its white, textured trunk and unusually draping branches stands tall outside the three picture windows a few feet from me—perhaps wilted from the steamy temperatures that have risen and fallen precipitously these last few days.

Every so often, a powerful gust of wind comes bursting forth brushing the branches to the side like long tresses of hair across a neckline—then just as suddenly stopping and bringing the flowing branches to stillness.

 

 

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Like a cat in search of a light-strewn windowsill to curl up in, I’ve come and found a place in the sun on the front steps where the battleship-grey paint peels and dandelions sprout from the bluestone pathway.

Basking in sunlight has a way of lengthening my breath—of thawing out my hardened thoughts—giving-rise to the more-malleable realm of imagination.

Anything is possible.

Greater peace.

Full-circle connection.

A black, Labrador retriever, even, greeting me at the door—tail wagging, tongue dripping—out-of-breath with enthusiasm.

A breeze blows softly through the arm of my shirt billowing out my sleeve and raising the hairs on my arm—the contrast of heat and cool exhilarating, almost rousing enough to send me in for more layers.

The air mingles with metal and wood chimes—swaying above me—whispering a sublime song with just three or four delicate tones captured at the level of the heart—the place that occupies an infinite space within us yet is incapable of holding official, measurable weight.

Within the sound is an invocation of the holy—a call to pause on an ordinary afternoon just before school pick-up.

Might we all suspend thinking just long-enough to soak in the common backdrop that interweaves among us—no matter our beliefs or our locale.

Might we all experience this web of connection holding us up and propelling us forward, if only at a snail’s pace.

This is the how of the seeming coincidences—the timeless knowing—the magic.

The birds compete with the chimes whistling their own afternoon melody with glee—elated to steal the stage away from winter’s prolonged residence.

In a flash, a scarlet cardinal zips into the high, thin branches of a young, apple tree where small buds have begun to appear—soon to burst forth in cotton-candy-pink and white blossoms.

I envision how the red-bird would look juxtaposed with the soft-pink petals—the combination of hues striking.

Lemon-yellow is among the first colors to appear in the burgeoning, Spring landscape in Maine.

Arching forsythia branches stretch upward and wide as if awakening from a long sleep and fragrant daffodils speckle the landscape with cheer—like a child’s drawing taped-up in a dim hallway.

When Jonah and Adrian were smaller, we occupied our drive home from school pointing out, naming and remembering the patches of vibrancy that revealed themselves first—giving them monikers like Canary Corner, Big Bird and Golden Sun.

We would do it again in the fall when the leaves transformed into their gilded state—a favorite patch at the curve of the road where a semi-circle of trees would lose their golden leaves—seemingly all at once—painting the pavement as a yellow corridor.

When driving home from school recently we came upon another expression of nature’s capacity to take-our-breath-away in the form of an ample, draping tree with an abundance of soft-cream blossoms cascading toward the ground.

I pointed it out but couldn’t think of the name of the species.

I was surprised when Jonah piped in, “Oh, that’s a magnolia tree.”

He’s been astonishing me in all kinds of ways.

Last year in his class play he gave three lines—with his eyes closed, as if in meditation—the energy of the crowd drawing him within himself for comfort.

It was beautiful in a sense to see his sweet face soft and at rest in front of an audience and I admired that he did what he needed to, to care for himself.

I witnessed him on-stage again yesterday—transformed as if into another body completely—giving a dozen or more lines confidently and with feeling.

I could tell that he was still well-aware of the many eyes upon him, yet he had grown more sturdy and grounded—his roots lengthening, deepening with time.

Later, he held a clipboard at a baseball game checking-off the players on Adrian’s team as they went to the plate—his petals unfurling into blossom with the world around him.

The blue metal wheelbarrow with its burgundy hardwood handles has faded with time and sits near the flower beds where I left it before the rain—filled up with last year’s hydrangea stems.

The stems dried out in the fall and winter and were more like sticks when I cut them rather than flexible, living stalks.

I pruned them short for the first time in hopes of a more fruitful re-bloom—the last few summers only producing a couple of flowers on three large plants.

The bases of these perennials now appear like three porcupines attempting to hide in the flower beds, quills mid-emergence.

A heavy fog arrives in the evenings and at dawn dampening the intensity of Spring’s flourish—drawing on our patience and on our trust in the unfolding of the earth’s annual rebirth.

The anticipation of being lived-forward along with our breathing planet is palpable—a racehorse at the gates ready to run free—and important in its own-right.

Pausing.

Waiting.

Gathering up our stamina—our strength—for the inevitable continuation and push-forward in our own lives with all of their unique expressions and majesty.

Turning inward—quiet, still, listening.

Then outward—full, radiant, in-bloom.

 

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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau

From three stories up in my somewhat-finished, attic-studio, the peaks of the tallest pines tower still several stories above me.

I’ve observed these skyscraping timbers more times than I can count seated in this cornflower blue, damask chair that once lived in Jonah’s room when his voice still lilted—a few octaves higher—and we planned to meet in our dreams on a pebble-strewn beach—he with a red balloon, me with my purple, sparkly shoes.

We were like characters in a Carolyn Curtis book in our envisioned dreamscapes—taking the moon out for a walk and hoping to be together even when we slept.

Pregnant with Adrian—my skin ached when it stretched taut in the last few weeks before his birth.

Jonah and I would crowd onto the chair to read—the two of us barely able to fit and my having to find room for breath—lungs all squished up by the baby inside and the little boy with the pointy elbows practically in my lap.

I would imagine what it was like for Adrian to know Jonah’s voice from the other side of the womb and when they did finally meet, Jonah climbed right over me in the hospital bed to Adrian so that he could be near him and say to him, elbow, as he rubbed his small fingers along Adrian’s silky skin still emanating aromas from another world.

Wearing his new big brother t-shirt, Jonah looked at me curiously—his blond hair lit up by the sun streaming in through the window—and then pointed up at the wall, “clock!” he’d said.

I was worried that he hadn’t eaten and he looked so big I could have sobbed but I kept a cheerful demeanor so as not to upset him.

“You made it …. You made it …” I cried to Adrian, again and again when he was handed to me—marveling at his crimson lips and pink skin—still wearing a soft, comforting shirt from my labor, woven with pastel ribbons near the collar and a hoodie of all things.

Taped to the side of my bed—as inspiration—was a photograph of Jonah just after he was born with his hands up by his mouth, skin bare, eyes wide and alert.

Remnants of tape from hanging it there line the edge of the tattered photo still today.

When I thought we might move, I panicked wondering whether I had come to know all of the trees within my midst and feared that I might leave having passed up the opportunity to know them all intimately.

I looked up at the plentiful oak out-front and off to the side—easily overlooked—and admired its quiet magnificence and outstretching branches.

Adrian once spotted a large creature in that tree.

He was still so little then— it’s hard to understand his attention being drawn upward to a spot higher than the roofline of our home, but it was.

It was almost as if his mind was tapped into another frequency of connectivity calling out to him and letting him know of its presence unbeknownst to me—like how a dog can hear the high pitch of a whistle undetectable by man.

We spent afternoons together then in our driveway—drawing with chalk and setting up a makeshift tennis court with a jump-rope tied between two, plaid lawn-chairs.

He has always had an awareness about him that goes beyond his years.

He once went through a phase in which he gave out tickets to people who called him cute.

According to him, it was ok if you called him sweet or kind or even precious.

I once asked him how much I would have to pay for all of the tickets I had accumulated and he said authoritatively (and oh-so-cutely) rocking his head from side to side to the rhythm of his words, “as many as the tickets you get.”

As a seven-year-old—knowing this story about himself well—he recently came up with the idea of reinstituting this issuing-of-tickets as a way of raising funds.

I would never have noticed the black and prickly beast nestled at the intersection of the two high-up branches—but Adrian did.

It took us digging out the binoculars and observing closely to figure out there was an oversized porcupine hovering high above us in that tree—not an ape or other out-of-place animal like it seemed.

From an upstairs window, the silhouette of a voluptuous woman is formed in the trunk of another oak tree—the curve of her breast evident, arms opening wide and at just the right height to form the soft sway of her underarm and perhaps the start of her hips.

She’s angled in such a way that she seems to look out at the water in a posture of open-hearted surrender.

Here I am.

I frequently gaze out at her and imagine that I might embody that same sense of renunciation of all things that separate us from what is real.

I invite instead a rootedness in the timeless—an observation of the world through the lens of something more lasting and bigger than me.

I wonder how I could have missed this figure just outside my window for all these years.

It’s a world of its own up in the canopy of these less-than-a-dozen pines gathered together like a tribe on view from my 3rdfloor studio.

I can only really guess what transpires in that lofty layer while noticing it from afar—the crows swooping about establishing their territory and vying for food, the air brimming with the fragrance of pine needles.

Movement is subtle at this height where the trunks become more and more slender as they rise upward to the top—revealing only the slightest, circular sway of the cone like branches even when the winds are high.

It is rare this late in the season for buds yet to have revealed themselves on tree branches—most deciduous trees still skeletal and spindly looking here in Maine.

All other signs—the dandelions, crocus and the mud—point to the breath-of-spring palpable and near—poised and ready for revealing herself more fully at any moment.

 

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“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero

Seated on an antique bed with a white chenille bedspread, he looks like a doll in his footie pajamas and his upright posture—hands folded in his lap.

Jonah first sat upright on a warm, summer day—the sun cascading in through a weathered window in an old farmhouse.

There are many photographs of him from that first year sleeping with his hands interlaced sometimes held at his heart or by his cheek, sometimes at his round belly—as if born into the world in a state of prayer.

I always wondered if he had held this posture in the womb.

When I ate chocolate he often became active—kicking or elbowing me from the inside—jostled out of his peaceful state by my desire for dessert.

Upon seeing that sitting-up photo for the first time, a childhood friend commented, “You need a baby agent.”

He had almost no hair for the first twelve months of his life and a perfectly round—cue ball—head.

Now when his sandy-blond hair grows out it is thick—like a horse’s mane, like mine—and soft with a slight wave at the base of his neck.

Adrian’s hair is thinner—more silky—and when he is in need of a haircut it gets filled with static electricity—standing spiky in the dry, winter, inside-air.

Adrian looks like a handsome throwback to the 1950’s with a buzz cut but I hate to cut Jonah’s luscious locks. I do so anyway in preparation for tick-season in Maine, trying to keep the top a little longer.

Despite the ground still hosting a layer of white, we’ve been warned—the ticks have already made their way down from the trees and onto the scalps of friends at school.

The image of Jonah sitting up marks a place in time when mothering was still brand new, my own hair landing halfway down my back and wrinkle cream yet to be explored.

The Jonah of today—with his silly faces and poses struck as his hair gets shorn close in the back, with his astute interpretation of justice and willingness to put forth an argument—is well beyond the vision I had for him.

I could never have known all that he would be.

We are all so much more than meets the eye.

That first year I marked time by his transformation.

His awakening into the world ticked-off the days on the calendar where I scribbled about how he kicked his legs—so hard—in rhythm with the Putumayo Kids cd’s that he loved and his horrified expression, followed by a grin, the first time he ate peas—most of the ill-colored food-from-a-jar ending up on his chin.

I jotted down about how he was endlessly amused when I hid beneath his seat where he ate atop the kitchen counter suddenly popping-up surprising him and drinking in his golden laughter.

It never got old—rubbing his soft head, surprising him.

I could account for his every developmental milestone noted with a mixture of joy and pride and relief for that first year.

After that it all became a blur and the copious notations stopped—time speeding up along with his fast-moving, toddler legs pushing a wooden cart with a snapping alligator mouth down the hallway.

There were a gaggle of adults cheering for him—he the first grandchild on one side.

As we approached the completion of his first circulation around the sun I wanted to do something to express what it had meant to abide by another human in their nearly every, waking breath for a solid 365 days.

I recognized that it would likely be several decades before he would even begin to understand the depth of my love and commitment to him.

My own understanding of what it would mean to stand-by him and be devoted to him had only just begun.

I could say the same thing today.

I decided to build a time capsule—not to share what was going on in the world but rather how his parents and all those who loved him felt about his having arrived.

I received letters and photos and small, family heirlooms from across the country. Some of the letters were sealed, others I read wondering what the words would eventually mean to Jonah when the time came for him to absorb them.

It was a cold, winter day—typical for Maine—when my father sat with his laptop in our dining room typing out his own letter to Jonah.

Outside the sprawling, picture-frame windows was a sea of white.

As my father typed, he looked up briefly and witnessed a red fox making its way across the wide expanse of the frozen bay in the distance—its titian coat vibrant against the otherwise stark landscape.

He mentioned the fox in his letter along with his wish for Jonah that he might, “live well.”

He gave me three black-velvet, drawstring bags—two lined with yellow and the third lined with purple silk for the time capsule.

Within the first pouch was a US Navy-issued, caution-orange, pocketknife given to pilots to assist them in survival situations—specifically to cut themselves from tangled parachute straps.

In the second pouch was a white, also Navy-issued, web belt—the buckles separated into the third pouch along with a silver boatswain’s pipe (or whistle) traditionally used to pass on commands and announcements of visitors on Navy ships where both my father and grandfather spent considerable time—both as officers and aviators.

All of these mementos had belonged to my grandfather who had been one of a select group of aviation mechanics chosen from the Naval Air Station Squantum in Massachusetts to be sent to flight training at NAS Pensacola Florida early in 1942—just after the beginning of World War II.

A few months ago it came up with my father about the pocketknife and the other gifts as he offered me a second pocketknife to hold onto for Jonah and Adrian for when they were ready.

I realized the details of his original offerings had become hazy for me over time.

The unfolding of the years and the creation of a second time-capsule for Adrian’s first birthday had created a confusing accumulation of memories within me like a tangled ball of yarn constructed out of a thousand intentions, events and moments that had taken place since the gifts were presented.

My father remembered it all distinctly—the experience of coming up with those particular items with all of the history they held was vivid for him.

As he spoke it all came flooding back to me like a favorite passage in a book revisited.

After our conversation, I checked the place where I keep all of the various letters and gifts—in a big basket on top of a tall dresser—and there safely within were the three silk bags.

I examined them again this morning—bringing a bench to the dresser so that I could reach—pulling the basket down and the three pouches out.

I became overwhelmed with emotion when I considered the reality of care taken over so many years to protect these objects and their meaning within my family legacy.

These chapters-of-our-lives returned to are like our very own, personal time-capsules stock-full of messages and meaning we might have overlooked—or not had the presence for—the first time around.

An injured fox has been lingering in our yard for several weeks.

He makes his way around our property on all four legs and then sometimes lifts a front paw in protection as he hops three-legged for a few strides.

Jonah has been awakening early lately—before Adrian—coming downstairs where he knows he will find me—eyes squinting still in adjustment to the morning light.

His body leans forward slightly as he walks. It seems as if he has willed himself awake before he is ready so that he can be first.

I remove one of the larger pillows from the couch making room for him and he curls up next to me.

In these fleeting early-morning moments, his face seems more delicate—like a baby’s—the defenses accumulated in these nine years of living softened for the moment as he piles his legs across my lap to be massaged, grinning and aware of his opulence.

I suddenly catch a glimpse of the fox’s wiry, thinning tail running across our back porch and we both come to attention.

He’s gone before we can get a good look.

A few minutes later he shows up again at the corner of our yard—by the fence—where he begins gnawing on the frozen carcass of a large bird—maybe a crow, it’s hard to tell.

It seems like a good sign that he is eating and we observe as he picks up one-half of his meal and drags it off around the side of the house.

I wonder if I’m going to have to clean up the other half.

A few minutes later he comes back for the rest and we discuss his ingenuity.

I turn in my journal to a page where I’ve jotted down the number of a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in helping these beautiful beasts.

I compare with the number I’ve been dialing on my phone and see I have been calling the wrong number for the last few days. It explains why I haven’t gotten through.

Because of the early hour I decide to reach out again through a text message.

Later I learn that the ragged tail of the fox is more concerning than the injured paw and we construct a plan for helping with supplemental food and possibly even medication left to be found and consumed.

The average fox apparently is lighter than a house-cat and catching one in a trap requires that their weight land heavy on all four feet within the trap—made more difficult when one a limb is injured.

It is better to treat them in the wild when possible.

I climb the stairs down into the basement—watching my head at the last few steps where the ceiling comes down low—and find a plastic container of leftover, dried cat food bringing it back upstairs.

Outside the air is full of moisture—a contrast to the dry interiors so prevalent this time of year.

There are some bare patches of earth where the snow has melted with sandy brown grass covering the rich and damp soil.

I’m fully layered against the chill—still biting this time of year at dusk—even so I imagine stripping off my thick boots and warm woolen socks that have rarely left my feet since the fall and walking barefoot across the tender surface.

With a little cup, I dip into the container of food and sprinkle it along the edges of our yard and on a couple of steps leading down to the dock—careful not to put it all in one place.

I dream about the fox at night imaging that I’ve witnessed him discovering the added nourishment.

Jonah finds the container of food in the garage after school and asks if he can spread some of it around the yard.

I tell him he can explaining that it shouldn’t be placed too close to the house.

He responds that he understands and I overhear him inviting Adrian to help him save the fox.

Together they spread the entire contents of the container—leaving it empty on the back porch— and find their way to the swing.

I sit inside and watch through the windows as they play joyfully draped in the shimmering afternoon light.

 

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“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”—George Sand

Given my record of a too-full inbox and a seemingly ravenous spam folder, it feels like a small miracle that I received the message at all.

I had missed the CNN story that had gone viral and so the title of the message, Cards for Jacob, might have come across as unimportant or like more noise from a world so filled with communication.

I had recently approached the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine about a collaboration having to do with the Free-to-Play Project—a collection of my work meant to draw attention to the inherent value—and birthright—of children’s access to and freedom to play in childhood.

We had engaged in promising conversations about sharing my work—ultimately thwarted by my lack of status as a non-profit entity.

It didn’t matter that my mission and desire were to donate funding to their programming.

They were bound by rules and as disappointed as I was.

Despite my frustration with the red tape, I decided to donate half of the profits from a recent commission to the museum scholarship program anyway. The contribution would support seven families offering unlimited access to engaging play for one year.

It felt like the right thing to do in the moment and later I realized it was instrumental in connecting me to Jacob.

When we are open to it—and maybe even when we are not—it seems there is an invisible web of connection that extends beyond the known parameters of this life safeguarding our path to evolution and our purpose in being here.

I like to think Jacob somehow ensured I got the message because he knew this work was for me.

Imagine the power of a small and earnest request invoking a ripple across the globe—from New York to Australia to Dubai—causing hundreds of thousands of people to be stopped in their tracks and to respond.

This was the power of a small, 9-year-old boy whose nose wrinkled at its ridge when he smiled.

His name was Jacob Thompson and his request was simple and from the heart.

In the last weeks of his life—rendered short by terminal neuroblastoma that he had been fighting for four years—he shared from his bed at Maine Medical Center that he would like to receive Christmas cards from anyone who might like to send them his way.

His wish was to celebrate early a holiday he would likely never experience again.

As an aside, he noted how much he loved penguins.

The response took everyone by surprise and was so overwhelming the Portland Postmaster General became involved and began keeping track of the number of cards that were pouring in like an overflow of winnings from a slot machine.

A storage facility was rented to house the incredible influx of mail and Jacob’s family found a purpose—opening and reading cards with and eventually for Jacob—during an extremely painful time.

A few weeks after receiving the e-mail, I found myself driving to a part of a nearby town I had never been to.

It was a cold and sparkling morning just after the New Year and a heavy downfall of snow.

Surrounded by beautiful forests, I could have been driving across the scene of a quintessential Christmas card which seemed remarkable, given the circumstances.

I had been invited to view some of the hundreds-of-thousands of cards Jacob had received before he passed away and to consider whether I might be able to create a work of art with them given my experience working with repurposed materials.

Jacob’s family had been referred to me by an administrator at the children’s museum—the purpose of my experience there clear to me now.

As I drove to the meeting it felt as if I was following a thread connecting me to the next, relevant point in a geometric pin and thread art formation that constructs the pattern of a life.

A cousin of Jacob’s mother came outside into the brisk air and bright morning to meet me.

She wanted to ensure that I entered a certain door in the house so as not to have to navigate the snowier pathway.

She had put her dogs away so they wouldn’t bother me.

I could hear them barking and bouncing around on the wood floors—they sounded big.

Having just said goodbye to my own beloved cat, Autumn, I was eager to meet them and said so.

Sarah and I had an instant connection. There was an ease between us that went beyond our few moments of knowing one another.

It was clear we spoke the same language about life and loss from the start.

She brought out several long, plastic, post-office containers filled with piles of cards that had been sent to Jacob.

She told me about him, too— who he had been, his family and their incredible strength.

Together we poured through the cards—stopping occasionally together in awe of the idea that so many individuals had hearts to hear a young child’s request; to set aside the concerns of their own lives and find the time to reach out to him.

In these hurried and divisive times this occurrence seems miraculous.

At first, I was unsure how I would work with the materials—many of the cards were hand-made out of construction paper.

The current medium I work in—repurposed wall-calendars—provides glossier paper of a heavier weight.

Later I would have the opportunity to see and bring home many—thousands—of store-bought cards and begin to envision a work that would in some way honor Jacob’s life and the profound expression of love that was born out of his being.

Might we all have such an impact in such a short time.

On a Sunday morning, I brought several of the mail trays into my living room and began sorting them.

I was in search of swaths of color—interesting textures—that could be torn and set aside into the creation of a palette that would later become the material for a collage depicting Jacob hand-in-hand with a penguin and perhaps other children who had also endured neuroblastoma.

Jonah and Adrian were intrigued with the cards—with this life—like theirs but unfairly cut short.

“Why didn’t we send a card to Jacob?” Jonah asked me sadly as he sifted through the trays examining intently the words and images.

I explained that if we had known about Jacob, we would certainly have sent him a card.

Like an analyst, Adrian set about gathering the duplicate cards. He created rows and rows of singing Santas and penguins with twirling, ribboned hats, googly-eyed snowman and Rudolfs.

There were twenty-two identical cards that when opened produced a penguin wearing a pink and grey snow hat with green gloves singing Deck the Halls.

 I listened to those songs again and again as I absorbed the cards and their messages, tears occasionally springing to my eyes in response to the many examples of what it means to truly witness another’s suffering and to respond.

Periodically Jonah came to me to show me a card—having read the inscription and wanting to share it.

He was moved by the kindness expressed and I observed his sensitivity as he tried to process the life and loss of a boy his very same age.

It seemed like no coincidence that Jacob’s mother and I shared sons born in the same year.

I was halted again and again by the words written within the cards.

I felt privileged to have access to such profound outpourings of love.

People wrote about how much they cared about Jacob—the hero they had never met. They wished that they could be a fraction as strong as he.

Some encouraged him to fight—that he could beat this. Fight Jacob, fight.

Others assured him of the presence of God in his struggle. They knew he was not alone.

With all of these people showering him with their love—he was most certainly not alone.

They told about their own lives and challenges and about the way cancer had affected their families—their children, even.

The kids who wrote shared all manner of beautiful words and expressed how much they loved the same things that Jacob loved—Christmas and penguins, Minecraft and Legos.

The heartfelt outpourings in the cards came from individuals from all social, political and socio-economic backgrounds.

There in the cards were signs of every possible way of life—all humans responding to the same thing, the experience of another.

It makes me wonder how we can do more of this—more of seeing each other, more of recognizing the many ways in which we are the same. More of living in the way that Jacob would want us to.

 

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“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”—Omar Khayyam

The housekeeper called to us from down the hallway with the swirling Caribbean carpet. She wore a distant stare on her bronze face that softened when we met. Her smile was generous, her body moved as if weighted down by more than her slight frame.

She offered us water rafts left behind—clear plastic tubes decorated with sky blue and chartreuse stars. We thanked her more than we needed to and Jonah and Adrian promptly pulled the inner tubes over their heads and around their bodies and began bouncing—like inflated Sumo wrestlers—down the hallway.

I slightly regretted the new acquisitions.

The pool water was much colder in the mornings than the more tepid, aqua sea. Jonah placed himself gingerly on his new raft—on his belly, just barely getting his chest wet.

He paddled out to the concrete island in the center of the pool with the imported palm tree planted in the middle—not indigenous to the desert climate where we had traveled for a rest.

He climbed carefully onto the enclave and stood up with satisfaction—his blue eyes sparkling, highlighted by his tan skin.

He folded his arms proudly and with his foot, pushed the raft away out of his reach, theatrically announcing, “Now, I’ve done it!”

“I’m stranded!”

“Now I’ll have to get in!”

A few seconds later he leapt off of the ledge—cannon-ball style—emerging gleefully, breathless from the extreme change in his body temperature and impressed by his strategy.

I lured them to the water’s edge with the suggestion of building a Hogwarts castle in the sand. This worked again and again and we created the structure at two separate beaches in three locales.

I began building drip-castles with them when they still thought it was a good idea to shove a chubby fist full of sand in their mouths.

There was a time when it seemed these days of leading them into play and creation would go on forever.

Now I recognize how brief a moment this stage will occupy across the timeline of living—a narrow sliver on a row of yardsticks across a stretch of years.

They think we will not need one, but I buy a cobalt blue bucket at the gift shop anyway.

I carry it to the shore, fill it with water and bring it to the place where the dense, wet sand meets the softer, lighter-color layer of powdery disintegrated shells.

Adrian makes the connection in this—his 7th year—that sand is the accumulation of billions of ground up shells and rock formations broken down over millennia by the tireless churn of ocean waves.

I once read that sea glass could be created at home by combining water with broken bottles and spinning it around and around in a household cement mixer.

In the past I thought about making the investment in this apparatus so that I—and my children—could experience this process first hand. I might still.

In the place where the wet and dry sand meet I situate myself on the upper layer where I begin building the base of our castle. Jonah and Adrian position themselves beneath me where they begin digging a long trench beside a thick wall—both constructed to protect the castle from the rolling tide.

I pour handfuls of soft sand into the water until I find the right mix—about the consistency of a thin cake batter.

With my fist full, I begin dripping a stream of sand into the formation of individual towers filling the rectangular outline. I watch as the sand sifts through the spaces between my fingers and fist accumulating into mini sculptures—each attempt unique.

It reminds me of the vast scope of lives among us. I think about the many ways that we may cultivate our unfolding—each development organic and coming to life in response to our every thought and vision.

Sometimes the sand cooperates forming a thick base, gradually thinning and growing more and more steep. Occasionally the accumulation of the dripping sand will reveal a form like a body or another figure—an hunched beggar, a mother with child, a towering tree.

My husband notices my whole-body exhale each time we arrive at this place of creating along a stretch of beach and joins in trying out my technique.

Jonah reserves the task of making the tallest drip-castle in the structure.

Once he decides to build it along the side of the building instead of in the center combining many towers into a large triangular wall.

I observe him as he surpasses what I have taught him and I imagine all that he may create in his life—my heart swelling at the thought of it.

I imagine what it means to be encouraged—all possibilities open like a river flowing swiftly through a gorge. The vision—only your heart’s deepest longing, whatever that might be.

The rain comes and goes rapidly.

When we see the nimbus clouds crowding together and darkening across the sky in stark juxtaposition with the turquoise water the boys rush to gather all of our belongings and begin sprinting toward the pool area where there is a hot tub and an awning to protect our things.

I think about how hard it can be to get them moving at times and the disparity of their speed with the threat of a storm.

I relish in the tingling of my skin when I sink into the Jacuzzi—a gentle, cold rain dampening my hair.

We do this again and again when the rain comes—hoping for the most extreme contrast we can experience—a powerful, heavy rain coupled with a warm bath.

Adrian loses his second, front tooth in the pool. He doesn’t notice until we’ve gotten back to the room and he remembers that he felt traction between his mouth and the water when he was swimming.

When his eye swelled up and we took him to the clinic, the doctor commented on the wide garage space in his mouth.

His new, toothless grin both matures him and anchors him more deeply into this place in time in which his r’s are still absent and his lens of the world still soft and hazy.

I was coming from our room by myself and entered into the elevator. It was just after noon.

An older couple—likely retirees—came inside the elevator along with a bellman.

The older man said to the bellman, “good morning.”

His wife promptly corrected him; “I think it is afternoon, now.”

The bellman said, “Yes, good afternoon, it is afternoon now.”

I watched as the older man composed himself. I could almost feel his energy zip into a line inside of him—taught.

A slight brightness came to his eyes. I knew he had something good to share.

“May this be the morning of our lives, then.”

I wanted to hug him.

Back in Maine, snow keeps getting swept out of the forecast by the rain.

Spring is here in full force with her elbows wide nudging aside the snowdrifts and making herself known through the mud and the sweet call-of-the-birds at dawn’s first light.

 

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“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”—Lao Tzu

The morning is bright and crisp. The long, doubled rope of the swing out back vibrates with the wind—each strand of line separating and then coming back to the other again and again. Occasionally a powerful gust of wind will come and sweep the entire swing upward and then back again, like a swaying pocket watch used in hypnosis.

The bay is hidden in a field of white. A large shadow of the giant pine drapes over the sparkly surface, evidence of the sun having recently risen. There is only one uncovered stream of water in the distance—rolled out like a navy blue carpet across the landscape of white.

In the hallway there are a string of deflated balloons—yellow and orange and green—still tied together with golden, curling ribbon. In the bathroom, the wide sink surface is covered in diamond shaped cardboard—Adrian’s current ambition to use toilet paper rolls that he has wet, uncurled and dried for collection and creation.

His impulse to repurpose household materials for art brings a smile to my face. My heart expands in recognition of the ways we rub-off on our children. Some of them are good.

I don’t know what I was thinking booking a flight that departed at dawn. Waiting to pack until just before bed, I noticed a slight pulsing pain in my head, the turning of my stomach. I set my alarm for three hours before we would be taking off and climbed into bed with ample time to rest.

Closing my eyes, I found myself on a carnival ride—the Gravitron in my mind spinning me around and around as if I were in my 20’s again having had too much to drink.

My options seemed bleak. I imagined having to cancel my trip—disappointing a grieving friend. I thought about the risks of bringing illness out into the world and to those who I love.

I wondered whether the maladies flooding our community had taken root in me—our bodies and minds so absorbent of the experiences of others—also, germ theory.

The hours passed, I didn’t sleep.

Instead I searched around myself for a place that was well—for an energy I recognize, even in my most debilitating moments when it shows up as only a tiny spec of hope.

I both greeted the discomfort entirely—swinging around on the tilt-o-whirl inside of me—and simultaneously expanded the stream of what I can only describe as perfect wellness, allowing it to flood the rest of my body with its vigor.

Beneath my doubts, a mantra pulsed through me, “I am well.”

A new reality was explaining itself to the cells of me. One by one they were jumping on board in deference to the Universal flow that is always at our service.

I have needed to be sick at times. I have collapsed feverish into rest like a corpse—freeing myself from the demands of doing and holding and keeping pace with the rapid swirl of the world. I have allowed the opportunity of illness to be revealing in its potent delivery of directives.

I have used medicine to help me heal—to ward of germs or promote wellness when I haven’t had the impulse or energy to will a change in the state of my body.

Even as I invited a shift in my being, I accepted the possibility that my early morning path would not look the way I hoped it would.

I straddle the worlds of personal, creative power and the mystery of the will of the Gods and biology—one leg each on either side of a seesaw catapulting through space and time.

I finally collapsed into a nourishing rest for about an hour before I needed to get up.

When my alarm sounded, my head was clear. I felt steady and strangely rested. I checked in with myself again and again as I showered and got dressed and rolled my weekend travel bag down the hallway in the dark, my two children draped with blankets in the winter’s night.

I was fully well.

Traveling so early, I found myself on the second leg of my journey in a row of seats by myself. I felt grateful for the extra space. It reminded me of traveling alone when I was very young and before the time when flights are mostly oversold and packed tightly with little breathing room between passengers.

The temperature in the airplane was frigid. The flight-attendant was apologizing and handing out blankets. I layered up all of the clothing I had with me including my colorful, fingerless gloves.

I have been re-reading the books that have most influenced my life and way of being in the world. It is interesting revisiting them as a mother now and noticing the ways in which they sit with me differently.

One of the gifts of having children is the wider lens it offers us unto ourselves. I have found in witnessing my boys’ impulses and needs, their tendencies and humanity I have been able to unearth further the places in myself that have been shut-down and ignored.

In nurturing them I have come to value more my own right to well-being. I have come to forgive more readily my mistakes—like I would theirs.

We all arrive here with all that we need. Remembering who we are—our original essence—and accepting the exquisite lightness of that being is the task at hand.

Huddled in my seat—still fully well—I read and read and then I would occasionally place my head back on the seat, removing the elastic holding my hair in a knot so that I could be more comfortable, closing my eyes and drifting off into a peaceful rest.

Yesterday afternoon it snowed unceasingly for many hours. Jonah desperately wanted to have a family snowball fight. I was the only taker. We decided to go for a walk first knowing the battle would leave us wet and wanting to go back inside.

The snow was still coming down as we walked along our hushed and deserted road blanketed in white. I convinced him to walk all the way to the house with the yellow Hummer in the driveway—its color popping out like a canary on a birch branch.

We walked briskly there—the snow layering up on my aqua blue hat and blending with my white scarf, making my neck wet.

Coming back we strolled more slowly.

Nearing our house again, Jonah stopped in the middle of the road and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. I took him in as his soft, pink cheeks greeted the wet snowflakes for a long while.

When he raised his head up, he told me how good it felt to do that. I said I would like to try. He looked on while I tipped my head back, closing my eyes and allowing the cold dampness to dot my face. I imagined the cool flakes thinning my makeup.

I noticed the refueling of my body engaged in the natural world.

When we got to the driveway, I gathered up the fluffy snow—too soft for a real snowball—and tossed it at Jonah. He took the bait and began running off toward his snow fort for shelter where he could ambush me in safe cover.

The snow we threw at each other separated like powder in the air again and again and we laughed breathlessly finally deciding that tomorrow would be a better day for real snowballs.

We decided to go down to the dock where a virtual tundra surrounded the shoreline. Jonah ventured out onto the boulder like structures of ice wanting to dip his gloves into the icy, watery mix at their base and create formations with this enticing mixture.

I kneeled down into the snow on the dock observing him, trying to notice and latch onto any warmth in my body so that I could stay out a few minutes longer.

Jonah summoned me more near.

“Will you catch me if I fall in?” he asked.

“I will,” I said.

“What would you do?” he pressed.

I replied in absolute confidence from the deepest knowing of my soul.

“I would do whatever it takes to save you.”

 

 

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“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” —William Wordsworth

It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat in this quiet, tucked away space in a small-town library in Maine working on various study surrounding my deeper exploration of yoga. Today I’m nestled here again with the art and architecture tomes on one side of me and the faint smell of ash lingering from an old fireplace on my other side. The familiar feeling of sitting down to write washes over me, churning up every cell of me. It’s as if all of the various pathways of my being have reached out beyond my skin and gripped onto their connections—their outlets—and have been plugged in.

A few years ago I planted a type of rose bush in front of our home that produces rose hips—round, red, berries—the fruits of the rose plant. I had been admiring these perennials for several years along the beaches of Maine, noticing their heartiness throughout the seasons and ability to grow among the sand dunes. Once a friend made a rose hip jam to share on a camping trip as a gift to our family. I have sometimes collected these berries on beach outings to decorate the fairy houses my boys and I have pieced together throughout the years. Our plant out front has been thriving and growing rapidly. This last month or two I have been observing its leaves transforming from a bright green in the summertime into a soft yellow in the early fall and now, suddenly, the branches are adorned with a vibrant and glowing gold and tangerine that bursts like a sun across the greying background of winters’ approach. With windows along the front of our home, my eye catches these magnificent hues again and again taking in this generous contribution of nature in this breathtaking transformation. I can feel my body—my too-full mind—absorbing the powerful warmth of color and beauty so gracefully given and intrinsic in nature’s presence.

I live a stone’s throw from one of Maine’s most beautiful state parks—200 acres of wooded trails and coastline filled with sprawling Hemlocks and White Pine, giant boulders, overlooks and salty marshes. In the hour before picking up my children from school I sometimes slip away and find myself there in a rendezvous with the trees. It is rare that anyone knows that I am there and I only cross paths occasionally with another wanderer.  On a crisp afternoon a few weeks ago, I found a window like this and stepped onto a wooded path that would take me away from the coastline—away from the busyness of my mind—and deep within the Hemlock forest. I walked slowly, purposefully, a sense of reverence coming over me with each gentle step. I was aware of my breath, of the ground beneath me and the vibration of so much doing in my life began quieting to a whisper.

On that day I was especially drawn to the trees. I had been working on a new piece of art—a “Tree Hugger”—and these lofty, magical beings had been on my mind. The process of bringing to life a woman draped up against a tree, arms clasped around its thick trunk, lips nearly grazing its rough surface, had allowed for many hours of contemplation about the places in which we humans collide with nature and the energy that is exchanged between us both.

I came to a wooded bridge, made from a thick board and meant to protect hikers from a muddy spot along the path. It was so very quiet there deep in the woods and I was so lusciously alone. I noticed the sound that my shoes made as I crossed the bridge. It reminded me, somehow, of the click, click click that dress shoes might make across the floor of a big city library or bank. The contrast of that image with my current place in time created a feeling of expansion and wonder within me. Are we ever really fully in the places where we find ourselves? I am here—so present and taking in the beauty and reality of my life—and I linger, as well, in the many corners of the world that have delivered me here to this very locale.

As I continued walking, I began taking in the trees as individuals and had the thought to touch one as if it were a human being. I slowed my pace and walked up to one towering timber as if approaching a stranger. So very gently I reached out with my hand. I could sense the space—the energy—between my palm and the rough bark. And then I placed my hand on the trunk of the tree as if on the bare shoulder, the back, the chest of a person. I felt the tree receive me. An electricity of connection ran through me similar to the sensation of the unity I feel before writing. I withdrew my hand. The words, “thank you” rang through me like a bell chiming. I walked on, moving to another tree as if I were entering a baby’s room deep in slumber. On the next tree, I placed both of my hands, imagining I was cupping the face of a child with my palms. Again, connection. I was transported to the tops of the trees where the branches swayed, light peeking in. It crossed my mind that someone might come upon me there in the forest in this crazy embrace with trees but I shoved these thoughts away. I moved on from tree to tree like this, hugging some and leaning against others for a long while. I drank in the goodness. I had entered into a communion with the natural world that nourished me in every, single, way.

 

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“O Joy! that in our embers is something that doth live.” —William Wordsworth

Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field.

I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility.

The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.

A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire.

The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay.

I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand.

The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.

A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful.

My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.

A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard.

Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows.

I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.

I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.

Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.

 

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” —Kierkegaard

After his attendance at the US Naval Academy and Navy Flight School at Pensacola and Glynco Naval Air Station, my father was in his mid-20s and a Lieutenant in the US Navy completing a tour of duty on the USS Lake Champlain. It was the early 1960s, he recently recounted to me, and his ship—an anti-submarine, attack carrier—was part of a task group that patrolled the North Atlantic during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had found a quiet place to receive his call on Christmas morning. He was thanking me for a gift I had sent and I was rolling around on an office chair in a back room of our house allowing the high-stimulation of the morning to wash away, sifting around my insides in search of a space where my father’s words might fall and land gently within me like snowflakes on a still day. We began talking about the unusually warm season and he began sharing about how in those days aboard a ship—if he were lucky enough—they might dock at Quonset Point in Rhode Island around Christmastime. He told about how they would be dressed in their winter blues “nearly freezing to death,” with hats but bare ears and how strange it would be to then set sail, at 18 knots heading toward the Caribbean. He told about how within 48 hours they would then be warm and working, dressed in their khakis and short-sleeves. Next they would head back up to Iceland where they would stay for a long and frigid stretch.

I could hear my boys unleashing their Christmas bounty in the next room. I could feel rising up in me a need to memorize these stories from long ago. He went on to say that at that point in his life, his next rank would be Lieutenant Commander and how his father—a naval officer himself—and other officers he respected had advised him not to leave his tour of duty and head to shore duty in Washington without a wartime specialty. It would be good for his career to stay on at sea. As he spoke, I noticed a spaciousness in me growing and opening like a web in which there was more room for both his and my own perceptions. He was recounting the things that have shaped him. He was recounting the things that have shaped me. I took in the imagery as he then described how he felt in those times like the ground was crumbling beneath him and he was just keeping steps ahead of the collapse with his choices. The Navy was closing specialties and his options were narrowing. He began describing to me how the Navy coded their planes, named their squadrons. ZP3 meant Zeplin Patrol, Third Squadron. He went on, “V” on the side of a plane meant it was a part of “Heavier than Air” squadron. With those mysterious words about the air—that significant sounding name —my heart paused just slightly, wanting to linger a little before its next pulse. Contemplating the air—its weight, its levity—slowed something in me like the slowing of time. I hung dangling there—on the weight of those words, on the weight of it all. I grabbed a sheet of paper, rolled over to the desk and began scribbling notes so that I might remember what made this conversation so exquisite to me. I started taking notes so that I might always remember him. I asked him if “V” stood for Velocity, trying to meet him in the conversation. I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand the depth of our connection despite our vast differences as he spoke on about a world so foreign to me yet constantly brushing up beside me—one that I have been hearing about all of my life.

It’s later—the next day. I am heading to a library in a nearby town. There is a quiet room there on an upper floor with lofty ceilings, a working fireplace. It is a place my father would admire. He would take in the oil paintings of ships at sea and point out technical details that would not have caught my eye. I am heading there to study—in preparation for my coming yoga teacher training. The contrast of my chosen specialty in life in relation to my father’s—whose career path eventually led to qualifications as a pilot in anti-submarine warfare and naval air transport—is not lost on me. In these conversations and in my deepening study of yoga I recognize the layers of him—of his experiences—that reside in me like the stratums that make up a geological formation.

Now, though, as I am driving across this damp and grey Maine landscape, I am thinking about my grandfather—my dad’s father. I am remembering the last time that I saw him. I was a college sophomore and I had left school to meet my father in Maryland where his dad was being cared for in a veteran’s home—deep in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. I remember the facade of the building was red brick and I remember walking in and together discovering my grandfather—a once fierce, icy blue-eyed, vibrant man with a quick wit and lofty intelligence—lying on a couch in a community room. He was curled up in an almost fetal position, his body swimming in his pale blue pajamas. He was emaciated and my father could almost pick him up like he was cradling his own new baby. Every bit a naval officer in that moment, my father showed only strength and positivity, a warmth with the nurses—not the sorrow he surely must have known deep inside. He took charge and I followed suit. I held back deep anguish and shock at seeing the deterioration of this once powerful man. Only as I was driving to the library and only now as I write this have I allowed for the memory and the impact of that moment to come forth.

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“By God when you see your beauty, you’ll be the idol of yourself.” —Rumi

I am propped up on a cozy, orange bench, a fire is going. My layers can’t seem to warm my too-cold hands. My fingers are dry against the smooth keys of my keyboard and there is a layer of polymer gloss that remains on a couple of my fingernails—remnants from a current project, one that is living in me like a child waiting for delivery.  I’ve come to this place once again where I may anchor my soul back into myself, back onto this beautiful and complicated planet. My tendency is to drift in my mind and with my body into the realm of daydreams and desires, like a balloon caught up in a dance with the breeze.  The fluttering around of all that I am imagining and even all that I must do sheds off of me like a skin as I sink back down into the more weighted place of present moment awareness. Typing with eyes closed now, the neurotransmission of my mind become both softer and more rhythmic. My breathing slows and my shoulders uncurl. I am safe. There is time. When I sit down to write, I never quite know what will come to the page but I know that it will draw roots out of me and intertwine me back within the earth.

I recently was the recipient of deep-listening, a process in which I shared a burden and those around me graciously took in my story and then eventually mirrored my words back to me. It is quite simple and yet, not something we can count on in the current pace of our society today. I love to take in and examine faces. My brain does not always work perfectly when it comes to remembering names, but I make a practice of memorizing your eyes, the way your brow is shaped, how you breathe. And when you speak, my attention is one part on the words you share and another part is experiencing you, your energy, your existence as a miracle of creation. I recently read that the probability of our being born—each of us, exactly as we are—is just one in 400 trillion. When I look at you, I remember this about you. It is not hard to see all that is unique about you even as you describe to me your seemingly common concerns, your challenging weekend with the children, your desire to start exercising again, your wish for a greater sense of community and safety. The gifts of the spirit are sometimes spoken to us in the very softest, faintest sounds of a whisper, and we must listen intently in order to decipher the direction to go. And yet, as I look at you, I am left breathless with the realization of how many magnificent creatures there are to love.

The water itself is like a mirror this morning— a house across the way reflected precisely in the bay it sits beside. I just keep sitting and being here with this new moment, and the next and the next, experiencing my breath and sensing what it means to accept oneself, to access compassion for our very own, deeply recognized challenges and flaws and come to a place of noticing, as well, of the many, many ways in which our essence—that which we all inherently are made of—is good. As I breathe in, I come to a place of wonder, as I breathe out I release judgment. No matter our age, this day, this life is still young.

 

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“What you are will show in what you do.” —Thomas A. Edison

A few years ago my now six year old son Jonah became interested in having a special container where he could keep his treasures in a private and secure place. He wanted something with a lock. We happened to have a small, unused lock-box that I offered to him. I strive to say “yes” when I can. I love to see my children manifesting their desires if I sense that it will be beneficial. Jonah came to call this box his “kit.” He keeps it remarkably unhidden on a toy chest in his playroom. I must overt my eyes, though, when he reaches for his hidden key. Adrian—his adoring little brother—may look on, for he is “a kid.” Jonah has utilized various key chains over the years to keep track of his key. My favorite was a multi-colored disco ball that he had picked out for me at an airport gift shop. I was happy to see it go to good use. I believe it has since broken and been discarded, replaced with a little scrap of yarn. For a while, Jonah’s kit was mostly filled with various gifts of the earth—stones and shells and such. In the last few months, he has become increasingly aware of the value of money and he has taken to setting up shops where he might earn a few dollars. His kit is filled with his earnings, plus some bills from a small—and oft forgotten—allowance and gifts from family. My favorite of his shops was his whittling mill that he set up in our living room on a small side table. In mid-summer he discovered that a kitchen, vegetable peeler acted as a fine tool for the shaping of sticks. This work proved to be a good place for his bountiful energy with so much of it going into the smoothing out the rough edges of the plentiful branches in our yard.

The abundance of acorns peppering our lawn this season makes walking around barefooted on these lingering, temperate days rough on the feet. I find myself taking a step, then a hop, a step, then stopping to pull a small acorn away from the arch of my foot. It is said that increased fruit production in nature portends heavier winters. Like squirrels in preparation for snows arrival, we’ve begun collecting these nutty gems once again just as our Acorn Tree Art prepares for shipment to the Maine Audubon for display. I’m taken with the way we arrive at that which is ours to do in this life. Collecting buckets and jars filled with acorns in the fall and saving them for art—I’m certain—is not for everyone. It is what we do, though. On one of our warmer days recently, I found myself engrossed in this process of moving along the steps of our back porch on hands and knees collecting these powerful seeds and their anthropomorphic little hats. I have a special affinity for the deep, chestnutty brown ones. Adrian—my littler boy—likes the still-green ones and tells me so when he comes near me in my work. We sit together closely for a few moments on the steps. I ask him if he knows that he has acorn eyes—such a beautiful mix of chestnut and green. He just smiles a knowing smile.

Soon he moves along to the work he has created for himself of digging in the dirt, of climbing and calling out for me to watch. Looking back down to a sunny spot on the ground filled with handfuls of acorns from which I might choose, a profound sense of calm washes over me, settling all of my inner-clutter into its right place. Faith shows up in this way—unannounced and without warning—a welcomed elixir brimming with healing thoughts and mending songs. There you are collecting acorns in your yard, on the couch—your sleepy child’s head in your lap. In she walks dripping with asylum, each droplet a new miracle to behold.

 

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10 Ways to be Mindful with your Children Again

 

One week ago I way lying in a hospital bed with my mother, holding her hand, my cheek next to hers, wading through an illness that had stopped her in her tracks. I thought about how it must have felt to be a baby in her arms so many years ago. I looked at her skin — so beautiful to me. She thought she needed makeup, but to me she was just perfect without it. I thought about how I’d always wanted her curly hair when I was a little girl, mine so straight then. I asked her what her favorite moments were with my sisters and me when we were growing up. Eyes closed—as if transported to another world—she recounted her joy in making oatmeal cookies with us for a 4-H program, picnics by our pond and days spent at a local pool. “Just spending time together,” she’d said wistfully. I asked her about my father, about her favorite moments with him. She told me the story of him getting ready for a ceremonial event in the Navy and how he’d had his dress whites on but she had to send him back into the house to change because he had put on underwear that was bright in color and could be seen straight through his pants. She thought it was very funny. I had never heard this story before.

When I saw my children again after that week away I felt elated. I had never been away from them for more than a night or two. We were all in the car together and I kept turning to them from the front seat, soaking in their brilliance, the tremendous light in their eyes. I felt flush with the excitement of being reunited and I was overwhelmed with the love I felt for them. In the days that followed though, my head began to feel cluttered. I was trying to be in two places at once — one part of me with my mom—thousands of miles away—another part, here at home with my children.

I’ve needed to draw on my devotion to mindfulness again and again in order to stay in the present and through this I have begun to observe the methods that I use to get there—or, right here, rather. I have also reflected on the signs that I can take note of when I am not living in a present way. All families have challenges and we all go through our ups and downs. My hope is that these suggestions may come to mind when you next find yourself drifting—getting caught up in the worries of life and the world around you—and in need of returning to your children again. I hope these ideas will help you come back to the joy, back to the light, back to the beautiful moments with your children—in all of their glorious perfection.

10 Signs you may not be Present with your Children:

  1. You find yourself talking to your children but not connecting with their eyes. You are talking at them but not to them
  2. You are speaking, maybe even saying the same things over and over again, but not connecting to the meaning behind your words. Playing games and reading books, maybe, but only going through the motions
  3. You are checking your phone or email more than necessary, maybe incessantly
  4. You find yourself physically forcing your child to do something (get dressed, leave somewhere, etc.)
  5. You are counting the hours until the end of the day
  6. You are not having any fun and neither are your children
  7. There is a tightness in your chest or abdomen and you catch yourself holding your breath
  8. You are saying “no” more than “yes” or generally have a negative or critical attitude
  9. You have slipped backward on previously successful breakthroughs in your parenting efforts
  10. You are judging your day based on a single moment or experience

10 Suggestions for Returning to Mindfulness with your Children:

  1. Start Again! You always, always, always have the opportunity to begin again in life and to begin again with your children. Hug your children, hug yourself and simply start over. Your dedication to a mindful approach to parenting means so much. Forgive yourself, breath deeply and recommit to this beautiful path and know that it is worth it.
  2. Breathe! Make a commitment to breathe throughout your day. If you need to, set a timer for every 30 minutes or so to remind yourself to check in with your breath. Oxygenated brains function better and deep breathing promotes relaxation. This change alone will set you back on your right path.
  3. Commit to responding to your children instead of reacting. Live in the pause between your children’s actions (“good” or “bad”) and what you say or do afterward. Allow this space to inform your response.There is great wisdom to be found in waiting.
  4. Slow your pace dramatically. Take in all of your surroundings. Feel the texture of your children’s clothes as you dress them. Inhale an orange once peeled. Notice the wind or even a slight breeze as it touches your skin when you step outside.
  5. Become acutely aware of your children’s words. Stop and really listen. Soak in what they are telling you. What you say back is less important than their sensing that you are truly listening. Respond the first time when they call out to you.
  6. Plan a day at home in which you are fully focused on your children’s needs. If you can, forget about bills and correspondence, cleaning and errands for a single day. If you cannot commit to a full day, set aside a few hours and do the same.
  7. Reflect on how you want to experience your children. Consider how you want for them to experience you.
  8. Get some exercise. Try to find twenty minutes to burn off your worries and allow a sense of peace to come over you as your body moves and bends and breathes.
  9. Revel in the memories of your children’s first days. Remember the promises you made. Remember their preciousness. They are as golden and as perfect as they were that very first day.
  10. Be gentle and kind with yourself. Find at least one thing you could do for yourself to care for your own inner child. A warm bath, quiet writing in a journal or a long talk with a friend, will go a long way. The way we treat ourselves translates into the way we treat our children. Love, forgive and celebrate all that you are and all that you can be.

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