“If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?”—Neal Donald Walsch

Jonah and Adrian have been coping with the heat these last, sweltering days by spraying each other down—fully clothed—with a garden hose left out in the driveway.

When water hits the blazing pavement they marvel at the steam rising-up from the surface, transfixed by the chemistry—radiating heat mingled with a cool stream.

An aqua and yellow wave-board becomes a shield—blocking water shot forcefully in a front-yard battle between brothers. Shrieks of laughter and withdrawal and the pounding sound of the hose turned to jet hitting the board emanates like the call of wild birds across the still, quiet landscape.

They look for rainbows in the places where the sun’s radiance intersects with mist and Adrian calls to me—from outside into the house—elated by what he’s seen.

I wish that they might always care so much to share with me about what they’ve seen.

I try to understand how the mind works and construct a future scene-of-them—two, grown men eager-still to share about the things that stir them—the places they will be drawn to—the people—the ways of being in the world that I have yet to know.

I imagine intersecting with this vision of them on another wave in the swell of time.

I sift around my being for any evidence that I can—even now— remember them in this way.

Running inside, they leave footprints on the wood floors and scoop out ice from the freezer carrying it back outside on a makeshift tray.

Delivering it onto the hot surface, they dip their bare feet into the place where it is quickly beginning to puddle and watch as it begins to disappear.

They argue about who has had a longer turn with the hose and ask me to be their referee.

Sometimes I try to decide what is fair—making a judgement and enforcing it. Other times I encourage them to figure it out themselves. Occasionally I will approach them—bringing them to the ground in a seated circle—and engage in a more nourishing exchange meant to soothe tensions all-together with reminders of who they are to each other.

I am always reminding them of who they are to each other.

When I arrived at the soup kitchen, I signed-in, grabbed an apron and asked the supervisor how I could help.

As she started taking me to the back, storage area, I kind-of-wished I’d waited around the serving-line where I hoped to be placed. Instead I found myself walking into a labyrinth of boxes and rows of shelving units filled with a plethora of donated food needing to be sorted and stacks of paper products, plastic utensils and containers strewn about.

As I began moving boxes from one room to the next where the contents would be put in their right-place, I assumed I would be there for the entire shift.

I thought about how I had come there to help—whatever that looked like.

It was a familiar job for me—like the work I had done when I helped manage a large endurance event in New York City and was responsible for keeping straight all of the medical supplies supporting thousands of participants.

There were two teenage girls who I would be working with in this task—one with a warm, wide-open smile and sparkly eye-shadow, the other more-sullen and with a sharper way of speaking.

People donate a ton of tea to food pantries—and canned pumpkin, and artichoke hearts. I imagine it is what they find in the depths of their pantries when they feel compelled to give.

I came-upon multiple boxes of coffee filters and smiled when I thought about how I had been using a paper towel for a filter in my coffeemaker at home for several days because I kept forgetting to buy more.

After chatting about what-went-where, the girl who seemed less-amicable mentioned that she would be doing this work for two days straight. She did not seem at-all happy about this fact.

I didn’t make the connection at first and just as I was asking her why she was there for an extended time, it became clear that she was fulfilling a community service requirement prescribed by the courts.

I’m just a normal teenager—there’s nothing wrong with me or anything.

I said something about how one way or another we are all just learning—I was there volunteering because I believe people are inherently worthy beyond their circumstances and I certainly knew there was nothing wrong with her.

I wasn’t so sure nothing-was-wrong or that she knew her own value but I was certain of her worth.

I wished I could have offered her a glimpse into some of my less-than-stellar life-experiences to put her at ease—to let her know that she was far from alone in her misstep—whatever it was.

Any one of us could pull out a long-list of all of the ways in which we might have done better at some point in our lives.

I thought of Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

I knew better than to try to share a quote with her in that moment or to convince her of anything so we moved-on to the paper goods area where she put her hands on her forehead—overwhelmed by the mountain of products.

When I suggested we combine like-with-like she seemed to agree that was a good idea and took over from there, ignoring any further suggestions I made.

Her friend smiled at me sweetly from time-to-time.

It seemed like we had been working for a long while when the manager came back and asked if any of us would be willing to come to the dining room and keep track of the number of trays being served that evening.

I was surprised when I entered the steamy kitchen and saw that the food had only just-then been placed in the serving-line—the first wave of people lining up like pilgrims, layered with their belongings.

I was asked to position myself in a place where I could observe—either in the dining room or behind the serving line in the kitchen and to press-down on a little, hand-held lever each time a tray was filled with food.

I chose to stand behind a friend who was gently dipping out mashed potatoes onto trays—tenderly creating a little space for the gravy—and offering light banter to the souls passing through in the way only a person comfortable-in-her-own-skin can.

To my right was another gentleman I know who—despite his own, significant, physical challenges—was offering bread to weary travelers.

In addition to physically taking a tally of each individual who passed through, I made an accounting of them as well.

Not having a responsibility to interact or provide a service, I passed the time engaged in deep noticing of all those who came there for sustenance.

They selected the foods they wanted and I recognized them as valuable—infused with a powerful life-force and birthed into this world, welcomed or not.

I took in each part of them—the energy radiating from their bodies and especially their eyes and their hands, the turn of their mouths—studying the stories written there upon flesh.

I watched them light up and remember and retreat—expressing preferences and showing gratitude—in much the same ways as we all do.

I told myself the stories of their battles and considered the microcosm accumulated in their various paths—emblematic of the universal struggles we all face.

In the quiet of my mind, I let them know they had been counted—not just for having consumed a meal, not for having passed through, but for having arrived on this planet—in all of their unfettered humanity—worthy of being seen.

 

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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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“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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“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”—Henry Miller

I probably should have located my destination on a map before getting in the car. I vaguely remembered having seen an exit sign for the town on 295 so I believed the highway would be the fastest route.

I imagined I would be avoiding the steep and winding country roads I had once traversed to get there years ago—in the dark, in search of a theater, still new to Maine.

It was a grey and dreary morning—somewhat rare here.

To friends from away I often describe the luster of winter in this rocky, coastal place—the brilliance of the sun’s rays bouncing off of snow, our position on the edge of the continent seeming to limit the shadows cast by heaps of living going on across the country to one side of us.

With the way the light lands and our position on a map it seems as if we are perched up more propitiously for the absorption of sunlight than in other geographical locations— though this isn’t exactly true when considering actual altitudes.

When I contemplate the way the light falls here, I remember the time I traveled in college to the coast of Portugal from Spain where I was studying.

With three friends, I rented a tiny, maroon car— a Twingo—for a long and scorching holiday weekend.

We drove it to the furthest edge of the European continent and took a photograph pretending to push it over the steep drop.

In the town we stayed—with its cobblestone streets—I took another photograph of a dark-skinned, African man in a tapas bar wearing bright-yellow and smiling at me.

I appreciated the contrast of his black skin, white teeth and lemony shirt.

I couldn’t understand why my Spanish friend laughed when he came upon this photo in an album I later created.

And he just couldn’t comprehend why I would take that photo.

At dusk we saw another man painting, a palette in hand—standing at his easel on a rocky cliff—pantless.

I photographed him, too.

The quality of light there was like it is here—occupying a space in the experience of living—like when we say silence is a member of a meditative group.

Let me be a member anywhere where silence and the light show up.

I had programmed the address where I was heading into my GPS so as I entered the highway it began redirecting me back to the sinuous roads I was avoiding.

I kept driving—ignoring it—thinking it was going to eventually line-up with the route I thought I knew existed.

I noticed suddenly—according the machine’s arrival time—I was barely going to make it to the memoir workshop I was attending.

At the start of the trip I had twenty minutes to spare. My arrival time now suggested I would likely be entering a room full of participants—mid-icebreaker.

I finally succumbed to the imploring requests and endless recalculating to leave my misguided concept of a faster route for the more labyrinthine journey that I remembered.

The ashen day enhanced the quality and aura of the homes I drove past on my redirected route—many in significant disrepair with paint peeling and wood rotting.

The lawns were peppered with broken-down cars and other debris.

I wondered if it was cold inside with the biting chill in the air.

My mood mirrored the weary appearance of the long stretch of rolling road.

I don’t assume that the state of a home necessarily reflects the state of the heart of its inhabitants—I have witnessed meager homes with mighty occupants and the reverse.

And yet, on that stretch of road, I was reminded of the struggle and suffering holding an ample space among us.

When I arrived at my destination I drove through an area that reflected the more urban version of what I had seen en-route—boarded up windows on row houses, packs of kids traveling in too-thin clothing, shop-signs dangling, rusted-out railroad tracks.

Parking hurriedly, I gathered up my many layers of clothing and lunch, a backpack and a coffee to sharpen my thoughts.

The sign for the gathering reflected a start-time one-hour before I had arrived.

Holding off disappointment, I checked my confirmation to make certain I had the right time and asked the librarian for directions to the meeting room—twice.

The sign was misleading and it turned out I was in the right place at just-about the right time.

Finally I found the room where I was meant to be.

I listened at the double doors for a moment and caught a glimpse through the crack between them of a large, square table surrounded by people with notebooks and laptops and hot drinks.

Someone was speaking—making an introduction in a lively way.

Later I would think of her as seeming familiar to me.

“We do not make friends, we recognize them.”

I turned the handle on the door—it seemed to be locked at first.

I rotated it again quietly and pulled—a little harder—opening it and entering as unobtrusively as I could.

My hand shook slightly in my flowered, fingerless glove—shaken by the rush and the hit of caffeine—as I balanced my coffee and all of my things, taking in the welcoming words—faces filled with anticipation—and finding my place at the table.

I was as wrong about Spring’s fervent arrival with her her elbows nudging winter out as I was about my route to the workshop.

Snow came down doggedly last week weighting down the lowest pine branches until their tips touched the ground.

There is more of it—on its way.

The sun is uncovered and blazing this morning.

The crows are playing a game at the tops of the trees—calling out fiercely again and again.

 

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” —William Wordsworth

The days of summer that nourish me the most are the hottest ones in the final weeks of August when the calendar is empty of plans, the days long and meandering—filled with casual outings to near and far-away beaches along the coastline.

In this time a calming pulse drifts in like the tide steading the frenzy of activity, allowing for a pause just before the bustle and transformation of fall.

It is on these days I stand still—barefoot in the yard—absorbing the sensation of skin on soil imagining roots winding down beneath the souls of my feet, grounding and balancing me on the planet.

I stroll along the shoreline of beaches with my boys in search of driftwood and colorful seaweed, textured shells and fallen rose hips to be positioned together as art and left to be drunk up by the sea.

My grasp on my children loosens and allows for more daring scaling of trees and leaping without nets, for rejection of sunscreen and bedtime and an increase in late nights by the fire, under the stars.

The garden weeds become like a jungle around the tomato plants and the winding vines of the gourds with their tendrils and yellow and white flowers. I wonder how I could have been—once again—so negligent with the weeding even as I discover a mammoth zucchini beneath the flurry of stray vegetation.

Later I take a photograph of it draped across Jonah’s arms—like a prize. It reminds me of Jack and the Beanstalk somehow—the exponential quality of growth when sun and soil and moisture mingle with magic in a dance of sustenance and creation.

When evenings start to hint of Autumn’s chill, I begin dreading the dismantling of the wire fence around the garden—constructed yearly to keep the lumbering, resident groundhog from consuming our harvest.

If I left it, the harsh Maine winter would wear away the forest-green paint that blends with the plants and leave rusty metal behind. It wouldn’t do its job anymore, either.

I know it will be less demanding to take it apart and store it away while the days are still long and balmy. Yet I often wait until the first frost to finally lift the heavy stones lining its base, to pull pins from the earth—holding it in place—and to lay the wire out across the ground flat so that I can pull the weeds that have grown between the beehive like design and tuck it back into the shed for a winter’s rest.

Somehow that day always seems colder than even mid-winter’s deepest freeze, my blood vessels seemingly still dilated from summer’s sultry hover and slow to adjust. Shivering, I wonder whether all of the work is worthwhile—whether I made enough gazpacho and zucchini bread to justify all of the effort.

A few weeks ago I drove along a highway lined with pine forests. Rain was coming down, the road lined with tall banks of snow—enormous pine branches hung heavy, now wetted with rain.

As the showers kept coming, the towering trees seemed to come alive with the new weightiness of their branches. I imagined them as characters from, Where the Wild Things Are, traipsing along the highway beside the cars.

I could almost feel the shuffling gate of their giant limbs.

Despite the frequent rain, there are still tall drifts of snow in our yard, up to my shoulders—pushed out of the driveway by the snowplow—and a thick layer of snow and ice on the ground.

The light has begun to change, the days lingering—dusk more delicate and glassy. Though still long off, fragrant spring air is palpable. I can sense it on my skin, like a feather’s touch.

The temperatures that in November dwelled in my bones sending me to the woodstove now call me comfortably outside in a light sweater.

I begin to imagine what I will find in the garden when the snow finally melts and is absorbed back into the ground. I wonder what nutrients the pumpkins have shared with the soil as they fell apart into pieces, disintegrated—hidden beneath an icy layer—over many, quiet months.

I remember how pretty they looked when I first placed them in the raised beds—the round, orange surface striking against the backdrop of wispy, white flakes of snow.

The sky is a soft blue with tufts of powder pink clouds angling downward toward the hazy horizon. It’s the color of a new baby’s arrival, the hue of new life.

The soil beckons me from deep beneath a still-snowy surface—ripe for massage and cultivation—ready for soiled nails, wiggly worms and rebirth.

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“There is no instinct like that of the heart.”—Lord Byron

A thick frost glazed the sea grass this morning—the sun luminous on the horizon highlighting the tiny, white ice crystals formed in the night, drenched in moonlight.

It isn’t snow, though. I’ve been checking the forecast for weeks, hoping for a shower of white to sweep across the landscape like a billowy curtain closing out the grey limbo that hovers between Autumn’s festival of color and winter’s achromatic stillness.

In a season that invites such busyness, it seems that snow has a way of landing like a gentle palm—holding down the corners of us—and directing us to our beating hearts, right there within, a palpable reflection of our breath and being.

I listened to an interview recently of an anesthesiologist who wrote a memoir about his experiences in the operating room. He spoke of witnessing the human heart for the first time and the impact it had on him. The interviewer expressed her distress in the prospect of being exposed so intimately to how consistently the heart must do its job.

I find comfort in coming back to the knowledge of our heart’s steady rhythm and it’s reminder of the tightrope that hangs taut between our to-do lists and life’s potent fragility.

There was a leaf caught in my windshield wipers on the way to tennis lessons. At just four o’clock in the afternoon the dark was being drawn like a shade, the rain coming down steadily. I said to my boys that I would remove it when we arrived. I promptly forgot. We noticed it again as we were driving home. It became a challenge wondering how long the leaf could hold on.

A week later, the leaf has become, our leaf. We’re wondering if it might stay with us through the coming tumultuous elements—through the slush and snow. It miraculously made it through a car wash. It is strangely connecting to discuss the leaf stuck in the windshield wiper—giving us a break from the normal pressure around, “how was school?” I see that our scrappy stowaway has grown dry and rounded. There is a little hole on one side of it. I wonder how much longer it will be there.

A friend once said I have a soundtrack for every part of my day. I sometimes put on yogic, kirtan music in the evenings. It acts like a steady pulse beneath the ruckus of two energetic brothers unwinding like spinning tops let loose after a long day of containment.

On one such evening, I put a pot of water on the stove and dropped in two eggs to boil for lunches. I loaded the dishwasher and walked Adrian upstairs to his bath. Jonah went alone to my bathroom where he gets ready for bed by himself now. I admired Adrian’s display of animals lined up on the side of the tub—there was a hippo, a cheetah and a plethora of other animals, a testament to his ability to elicit a “yes” to more of anything.

He told me he’d divided the animals into girls and boys and I asked how he could tell the difference. He explained, “I made them alive,” so of course, he knew which was which.

For a change we decided to read picture books before sleep instead of our regular chapter book and the three of us piled together on one bed—our backs against the wall, legs propped out in front of us. Jonah played with the hair beneath my ponytail that had fallen to my neck. Adrian nibbled on apples.

The door to the room was closed, any tension from the day having fallen away.

And like always when I am engaging with them—beneath nearly every interaction—I was imagining that somehow our time together was filling every vein of them—every single pore of them—with the boundless love and hope I feel for them.

Even as I read, there was an alternate story playing out in my head—my attention weaving a root system inside of them, vast and steadying and strong—capable of keeping them safe and upright in this capricious world.

Suddenly, we were startled out of the bubble of our togetherness by a very loud sound—almost as if something large had dropped or maybe even popped. It stopped our reading in its tracks and we looked at each other in wonder. We almost decided to ignore the sound thinking that, in fact, something large had toppled over and I could check it out later.

Then I caught a whiff of something burning and I suddenly remembered. The eggs! I had dropped them into the pot, intending to go back down shortly to turn off the water and let them sit. I had forgotten about them completely.

We ran downstairs and found that the water had boiled down to nothing and one of the eggs had exploded—pieces of shell and cooked egg were scattered across the kitchen island and the floor. I ran and turned off the stove. The yogic chanting music was the backdrop to this messy scene.

It didn’t take me all that long to clean up the scattered pieces and thankfully there was no real damage—even, surprisingly, to the pot I had been cooking in.

Jonah lit a stick of the awareness incense in the green box to cover up the burning smell. Adrian had calmly found a book with colorful drawings and had sprawled out on the floor to look at it.

I noticed that my heart was beating wildly. If I had put my hand to my chest, I could have felt it thumping. There it was—doing its job—mirroring the narrative of my life and drumming out the measure of surprise.

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” –William Wordsworth

It’s another temperate October afternoon—still damp from the night’s rain and Halloween is in the air. A flock of crows swoop back and forth high above the tallest pines cawing loudly—announcing the coming storm or some other alarm that only those within their clan can decipher. I’ve yet to bond with one of these dark and intelligent creatures—so frequently in my midst—although I did once place a shiny, silver carabiner on the top of a hedge in a gesture of friendship.

The hammock has been taken down and packed away in the shed safe now from the winds, the pollen scrubbed from the pair of white Adirondack chairs that sit in welcome throughout the seasons. I’ve placed a pot of lemon balm on a table between them—a gift from a soul sister, dug from her garden and offered as a tonic with antiseptic properties. Later I will snip some of its leaves and pour steaming water over them for tea.

We have more pumpkins than we need—two are enormous—larger than we’ve ever picked out before. There are six in total, the pair of smaller ones already tucked in the car ready for carving in the classroom tomorrow.

The bees are telling their story again. They have had to find a substitute for the few remaining flowers that I pruned this morning in the front bed and four or five or six of them have landed on the jagged mouth of a jack-o-lantern, nibbling away at the remaining pulp from yesterday’s carving. One lone bee makes its way across the stone walkway, tipping over to its side and falling and then gathering itself upright again to keep moving forward toward some unknown destination.

He must have been brave—or looking for a way back to his den— to come so near, the boys playing loudly in the front yard. I suddenly felt compelled to look behind me. I must have heard something. As I was turning and peering down the pathway on the side of our house I caught a glimpse of a fluffy, grey tail leaping away from us. I took a few steps forward and at once realized we had been just a few long strides from a large grey fox diverted with my turn toward him and now running for the shoreline.

Inside a few days later, the boys and I were gathering our things to leave for an appointment. I was talking with them and facing our front door—large and outlined in windows. My eyes were suddenly drawn beyond them through the window where I came in contact with a pair of large, black eyes peering at me and attached to a wide and round body.

At first I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The raccoon was so large and walking up our pathway with such confidence, it seemed he might stroll right up the steps and ring the doorbell. I composed myself and quietly alerted Jonah and Adrian and they turned slowly to face the door. With just that amount of movement our visitor scampered to hide in the line of bushes along our porch, Jonah heading quickly outside to catch one final glimpse before he scurried under the porch.

Dawn’s first light was only just beginning to reveal itself, a gentle fog hovering in the distance around a tiny island offering ambiance to the season. The house was completely still and silent except for the gentle movement of my pen across the page. I was perched in the spot I return to before the sun comes up morning after morning opening to connection and preparing myself to meet the vast energies that cross our paths in living.

In an instant I felt a presence to my right where a wall of windows looks out into our yard and the water beyond. I turned slowly—unsure of what I might find. My mind had to acclimate itself to an unusual scene once again—the presence of four majestic deer lingering within a stone’s throw of my seat. It was as if they had been looking in at me.

I looked back at them in awe—feeling my heart expand—and zeroing in on the mother’s perked tail, white on the underside. Her head turned toward me in a steady gaze, her ears at attention. In my mind I immediately felt compelled to send her a message of safety—of love, even. I thanked her for being there in a way that I hadn’t had a chance to do with the other wild creatures that seem to be circling our home coming more and more near.

I began to rise up—I don’t know why. There were two little deer along with the adults and as soon as I rose, they all began quickening their pace—moving gracefully— across the landscape away from me. The mother—in the rear of the group—looked back at me for just a moment longer than the rest. I took in the softness of her tender gaze and then watched as she caught up with the rest of the herd, wondering what other visitors I might be welcoming next.

 

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“Silence is also conversation.” —Ramana Maharshi 


My husband was away—traveling for work—when I began my pre-daybreak awakenings. I meant to rise early so that I might shower and dress, then fill the lunch container and set the table with breakfast items prior to the calls from my two boys announcing their own rise to the day. They’ve held onto this ritual of our morning greeting stemming from their long-departed need to be lifted from the crib and on most days I still go to them when they call. Opening their door, the warm and sleepy smell of them wafts through the air to greet me—the room still quite dark from the blackening shade. I go to the bed of whoever called out first. Adrian, my littler boy, stretches and moves like a cat when he wakes sometimes crawling his legs up the wall and launching right into a commentary about some obscure fact he’s discovered or how stretching is a form of yoga or wondering about whether or not this is a school day. With his shirt hiking up his back as he stretches, I massage his still-warm skin and notice his eyes—puffy from sleep. Jonah is more still and needing of tenderness before he rejoins us in this realm. I come to him and rub his legs, maybe lie down next to him. When he finally opens his eyes fully, he might make a comment about his dreams—how good they were, or how scary. His expression remains supple and pure like a baby in these start of day breaths. I began rising early so that I might meet this morning reverie with a sense of calm.

I’ve long been drawn to the magic that lingers in the alluring darkness of the pre-dawn hour. There is a silence that is both palpable and vibrating with anticipation—especially in a household normally brimming with boisterous boy energy. On the first day that I rose before daybreak, I allowed for what I thought would be just enough time to prepare myself. When the favor of a few extra minutes came, I found my journal and a cozy place on the couch to write, legs propped up with a fluffy pillow beneath my knees. Words of gratitude fell to the page—long held feelings unearthed—if only briefly. And then the call came and I headed upstairs. On the second day, I allowed for more time. I completed my tasks quickly and by firelight, I soaked in the conspicuous sound of creaking inner doors cracking opening, Spirit gliding in oh-so-discreetly and settling at my side. I began to notice the way in which these stolen moments were informing all of my day. I noticed that I was called to sleep earlier in the evening. The external need for this ritual has since passed and still I rise earlier and earlier—thirsty to drink in the stillness, called emphatically to peel away the crumbling veneers and prepare my skin for a deeper listening—one that I am capable of at dawn’s first light.

Last year I began working on a “Wild Woman Collective”—a collection of sculptural collage showcasing women in various states of communion with their inner-spirit, their creative-self, their connection to the Divine as depicted by their interaction with a wolf. I am currently in the final stretch of the third installation—a woman arched into an almost backbend position and levitating with head dropping down toward the wolf who is meeting her with his upward stretching nose and mouth. Her legs are dangling down too in a state of surrender and resting against the sturdy body of this wild beast. Her posture is an act of acquiescence and one of faith in which she gives herself fully to this place of inner wisdom. In the final stage of bringing these wild women and their wolves to life, I must do the intricate work of cutting away and freeing them from the constraints of the paper surrounding them. It is a delicate work trimming away these facets of their beings that although once critical in their creation are now—quite suddenly—no longer serving them. This process requires patience and precision and focus. It requires a commitment to the process of unfolding and it requires stamina. It requires all of the things necessary for a genuine soul in her very own journey toward fruition.

 

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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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“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” —Simone Weil

 

I am lying on my back on a bath rug. My legs are draped over and into a full tub of water occupied by my two naked babies. Oh, but they are not babies any longer. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to hold on to their sometimes still-round bellies, they continue to grow. Both can submerge their heads under water in this oval, jacuzzi tub now. Whipping their hair back when they come to the surface again, they remind me of their father coming out of the swimming pool. This movement—my older boy Jonah picked it up from observation and has since passed it on to his little brother, Adrian. I am lying on the rug and I am experiencing a feeling inside in great contrast to the way that I have felt throughout the day. I relish my in-breath and experience a deep relaxation come over me as I exhale. My boys are playing “doctor” and caring for my “injured” feet. They’ve created a paste out of the eczema soap mixture I’ve given them to soothe their dry, winter skin and with it they smooth my own dry heals. I breathe deeply letting my day fall away, letting go of the nearly constant monologue of the many should’s and how-to’s and reminders of kindnesses and cleanliness and carefulness that I’ve been administering for nearly twelve hours now. I close my eyes and listen to the musings of the doctors at work—of Jonah, describing the way in which he is healing my broken toes and deciding that he is a water-scientist at work. Adrian stands and peers over  the side of the tub at me, water dripping from his long eyelashes. It is clear that he has recently submerged himself again. He looks at me through his chocolatey brown eyes and assures me that I don’t need to be afraid of being treated by the doctors, that I am safe. “Nana, is right behind you,” he says. He knows that Nana is my Mom and that I will feel safe if my Mom is near. I’m glad for that association.

Lingering in Adrian’s gaze has been an anchor for me in this time of changing routines and greater time apart. I meet him there whenever I can. Sometimes when he is finishing up a meal, sometimes when we are reading a book together and we come to an amusing passage and often when he is luxuriating on the potty as he is known to do. “I don’t need privacy,” he says while he is sitting there on his sky blue potty with the little bear on it. And he can sit for a very long while. Most of the time, I can find the presence to sit in front of him and just take him in in this wholly natural and vulnerable place. I know so well that this time will pass, although, my bigger boy Jonah— now five—would still have me sit with him and take in his dreamy, blue eyes in this very same way every time he uses the bathroom if I would! I sometimes do. This is all that my children long for in life —my attention and the attention of those surrounding them and dear to them. Not in a, “look at me,” kind of way—although there is quite a bit of that, too. Their greatest need, their greatest pleasure is in the single-minded presence of those who love them. They can spy distractedness, multi-tasking and living-in-one’s-head from a mile away, too, like a couple of little detectives. Watch them how they jump wildly from the couch. Watch them how they roar.

Back on the bath rug, Jonah decides that it is time to rinse off my legs. He inadvertently pours water not just down the front of my legs but also over the side of the tub soaking my entire pant legs. I cry out a little and try to jump up but it is difficult with my legs wedged the way they are. I finally raise up enough to swing my feet around and bring my face close to Jonah and we are both laughing and I am sort of breathless from trying to get up and just witnessing his full-body laughter. Looking at him in that free and joyful place of unencumbered laughter—like a wave—wipes away so much of the coarser back-and-forth that we had experienced together throughout the day. It wipes away so much and brings us face to face, heart to heart, once again.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” —Aristotle

Autumn has been meandering here in Southern Maine. In the orchard at my bigger boy Jonah’s school, the yellow jackets have hung around well into this colorful season sampling the plentiful apples. The leaves have transformed into magnificent shades of tangerine and amber and burgundy even as our winter jackets have remained tucked away inside. It is only in the last week that cooler nighttime temperatures have allowed for us to feel justified in lighting a fire in our wood stove, not just for the first time this season but for the first time in several years. In winters past, I’ve blamed our lack of a home fire burning—in this snowy, cozy place—on the diminutive size of the stove, on the lack of a window to see how the fire is faring, on protecting the little ones from hot surfaces. The truth is that there was something more holding me back.

Sometime in late summer I began to know that this would be the year that we would strike the match at last. I could feel embers simmering in the core of me. In anticipation, I shared with my husband thoughts of lowering heating bills, of warming our home with a deeper, more resonating warmth. I talked of getting in the habit of using the stove and describing how then it would become a part of us. These too were ideas dancing around the real reason that I needed to bring this fundamental, earthly element with all of its heat and passion and warmth into my life, into the lives of my children.

I lit our fire somewhat unceremoniously the first time. My husband was trying to leave to run an errand and I told him that I was going to light a fire and asked him did he know which way the handle on the side of the stove was supposed to be turned so that the smoke didn’t come billowing into our home. He said, “no” and went upstairs to get his socks. I think I needed to light that first fire in that way for the same reason one might pull a bandaid off quickly. I needed to just do it and see that I could. I didn’t really understand all that it was tied to for me at the time. I did know how I would feel once it was lit. That first fire did not disappoint. Within moments my two beloved boys and I were cuddled up around it. With the surge of the flames, I felt an inner warmth come alive inside of me. I felt Jonah and Adrian settle down into themselves, eyes fixated on the flickering wonder. I felt grounded and capable and secure—all at the same time. There was nothing wrong with the size of the stove and the doors could be easily propped open with a screen so that we could take in the golden blaze.

For years now, weekends have been a time of reunion with my husband for both me and for our children. I have been reticent to take time away by myself to refuel wanting to create memories of the four of us together, wanting to not put that pressure on my husband after a long week of early rising and late nights. But lately, with a chronic medical condition flaring, it’s become less of a choice for me. It was for this reason that I found myself being dropped off at home by my husband and two boys on a grey, Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know whether to cry or drink in the silence as I walked inside. I put down my things and headed straight for the wood stove. I pulled on my stiff gardening gloves and opened the creaking, cast iron doors and began gathering together logs and kindling. I took off my gloves so that I might better ball up a couple of sheets of newspaper and tuck them between the wood and the kindling. I leaned forward onto my knees, rolling back the igniting mechanism of my lighter, then pressing down, listening to the clicking sound as I moved it forward into the stove. The papers were lit and the flame quickly spread from newspaper to birch bark to wood. Despite the afternoon hour, the room felt dark and I sat back on my heels opening my chest, opening my heart to the firelight. It was then that I knew. It was then that I knew what had been holding me back from this glorious experience of this essential element. In that moment—my inner glow expanding—I experienced a fleeting memory of a time in which I had surrendered myself to motherhood, a time in which I had surrendered myself to my marriage, even. There with the warmth of the fire bearing down on me, a sensation traveled through me, reminding me of a time when I had convinced myself that I would only loose myself for a short while. That this would be ok. I convinced myself that I would only give myself over completely, temporarily. It was with this realization that I was reignited. A part of me that I had given away—albeit small—rejoined me then. It was the part of me that lights fires, of course. It was the part of me that makes art. It was the part of me that has time. It was the part of me that makes time. Attempting to savor that feeling was like trying to catch a snowflake in a gusting wind. It hasn’t mattered, though. I’ve remembered. That’s all it takes. Even on warmish days, I have found reason to light a fire in our home and I plan to do so until winter is no longer.