“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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“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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“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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“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 must be felt. It can’t be thought.”—Eckhart Tolle

Upon our descent the airplane tilted the left wing sharply earthward—our bodies shifting off balance in our narrow seats. Across the aisle we caught a glimpse of the Maine landscape, the fields and forests splashed in white and russet brown. The stark-white sheets of snow had melted or been washed away, now only intermittently splattering the trees and rooftops and the rocky coastline like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Peering out the far window, I tucked my book partially under my leg so as not to forget it. Its orange cover was worn, the pages yellowing with many of the corners bent from years of re-reading. The topic—inner spaciousness—breathed through me emphatically as we as we surged to the ground.

Driving home—despite the single-digit temperature and our thin clothing—Jonah said it felt like fall and then he shouted-out, suddenly remembering his snow-fort in the front yard and fearing its demise. Once I realized his howling was not from injury, I assured him that it would take a long while for the snow in our yard to melt entirely—which turned out to be true, in the front at least.

In the back, a damp and grassy ground had become visible beneath the new, circular swing and all around it. It feels more like spring than fall to me with the sudden accessibility of tree roots and the coffee-colored puddles.

Just a few weeks ago, I tried the swing out myself, with a vigorous push from the boys and then a leap off into the snowy padding below.

I felt so alive in the clutches of the cold, rocketing toward the pink-streaked sky at dusk.

The fire pit is still covered in an icy mix. I’m tempted to clear it out and build a fire with the dry wood stacked in the garage. It takes time to feel grounded again. Building a fire allows a weight in me to be regained, stirring the embers steadies the stirrings within me. The heat melts away the high-vibration cells in motion.

By tomorrow, the ground will be covered again. All evidence of the raw verdancy witnessed today will be blanketed over with the return of winter’s firm habitation in these parts—a clean palette dropped down from the heavens like a curtain unfurled in a midnight meeting with the new moon.

In a café this morning, I looked around for where the light might be streaming in and ended up in a cozy spot in the back. I thought about all of the ways light shows up in various scenes of living—in my home, in the places I go—how it feels heating my hair, my skin, the way it can shine on a face or create shadows that only draws a greater—more powerful—emphasis on its presence.

Looking for the light made long days with babies and small children less lonely and forged a fruitful pathway to deeper seeing. Discovering the light again and again has had a way of establishing me into the present moment and vindicating my right to be there at my own slow—even glacial—pace.

While I was reading the café seemed to fill up and overflow with ebullient conversation. The space was mostly filled with university students and some of their parents. I gazed across the room and my eyes were drawn to a man who appeared to be a father with his son. For some reason—I don’t know why—the father captivated my attention.

I felt a spaciousness growing in me as I took him in, my thoughts falling away.

He was looking at his son as he ate—his eyes just slightly lit up. I noticed his attributes. I was far enough away that he had no idea I was looking so intently at him.

Finally, I looked away and my attention was drawn more near to a table of women and girls. One girl talked in a lively way. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Her hair was long, her face round and youthful. Everyone was listening.

I felt myself landing more deeply into my body as I sat observing all of the people in the room, none of them noticing me. I looked down at my book and read on.

In one of the airports there was a courtyard in which a pianist played. We settled into a couple of the rocking chairs beneath a row of trees. I asked Jonah if he thought the trees were real. We looked down and saw that they were planted right into a square space that had been carved out of the concrete and filled with real soil.

We agreed the trees were alive and envisioned a vehicle coming around watering each of them. It was hard to imagine that so many would be watered by hand.

As I sat rocking—as if on a front porch—people of every, single variety, in every shape and pigmentation, flooded by in a colorful stream of hearts beating, blood traveling, cells dividing.

It is compelling to look on and observe the way the brow reflects thought—denser thinking and worries tugging it inward, lighter contemplation or expanding awareness drawing it outward. I can feel it in myself.

I could almost hear some of their thoughts shouting out—like fireworks set-off from their skin. Others emanated a peaceful equanimity—a waterfall of goodwill pouring off in a gentle flow.

They talked and talked and talked, then waited for their turn to talk again. Others had learned to listen—to really listen to hear and to understand. I could see it in their eyes.

I contemplated the significance of each person in all of their consciousness and unconsciousness, in all of the intricacies of their very own, unique lives. Not one of them deserved less than the others.

I am so taken with humanity and the many ways that people go about living. We are here to learn from each other. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tonight Jonah and Adrian—unusually—went to bed at the same time. I was lying with Adrian in his bed rubbing his back when Jonah said he heard something. I told him it was the music downstairs.

He got up and cracked the door open to listen. I heard more loudly the gentle beat of the kirtan.

He came over to Adrian’s bed and tried to squeeze in with us.

“I wish all three of us could fit.”

I rubbed his leg that had made it onto the edge of the mattress reassuringly and then he went back to his bed.

Adrian said that he was having a scary thought.

I expressed that he was safe and offered to help him find his way out of the thought.

I invited him to follow my breath with me.

My hand was on his back so I could feel his breathing pattern become elongated as I began to become more conscious in my own breath.

After a couple of moments I suggested that he take a pause at the top of his breath and then again on the exhale. I demonstrated with my own breathing.

Some time passed.

I noticed with my hand that his breathing had become very slow, almost imperceptible.

I experienced my own thoughts softening—the planning and imagining falling away.

I relaxed into being right there with him—my palm on his soft skin, my brow relaxed.

Adrian fast asleep.

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“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.” —Walt Whitman

The snow fell steadily in the night layering up the landscape and decorating the trees—the evergreen and bare branches, alike—with a coating of white. A transformation from raw naturalness to magic occurred under the cloak of darkness—a wonderland unveiled with a sparkle that can only shine in this way at the birth of a new day.

The sun rises on the front side of our home through a wooded view—a spectral of coral and rouge extending like a luminous line on the horizon behind the trees. Sometimes I can catch the golden orb of the sun-itself just as it rises up through the stark branches. It seems as if I could reach out and pluck the glowing ball of heat out of the sky. I imagine cupping it into my palms and bringing it to my heart to be absorbed—like a remedy.

In the back, evidence of the sunrise reveals itself more gradually in the pale pink strip of sky on the very top stratum. Each sequential row of light grows dimmer and dimmer until the air meets the saltwater in a sparse hover of fog. Sometimes only a reflection of the light will appear out back on the tops of the towering pines across the water. The affect is a row of paint brushes pushed into the snow with golden tips reaching upward to their source. The rest of the scene is draped in shadows.

It takes some time for the waterside to become fully illuminated—awaiting the morning light has become my practice, its arrival my touchstone. 

Saltwater freezes more slowly than freshwater—the thin layer of ice coating the surface these last few days is deceptive, the consistency changing rapidly with the rising daytime temperatures. Jonah comes running up to the house—his snow pants soaked right up to his knee—his boot had pushed through the tenuous surface, a surprise.

When the gentle entry of this season gives way to the full force of winter’s mighty blast, the saltwater will finally freeze solid a few hundred yards out. Our backyard will become a blanketed field, the ebb and flow of the tide hidden in the months to come.

Jonah kicks his boots out from beneath his dripping pants—ready for cocoa. Adrian is right behind him.

I sneak a handful of the miniature marshmallows that will cover the top layer of the sweet mixture in the white, bird mugs.

Pouring milk and stirring in chocolate, my eyes are repeatedly drawn to the little cat door where Autumn’s head used to poke through. I search around my insides, too, hoping to discover the essence of her there.

While building a fire—bending to put the wood in—I think I might see her walking toward me from the corner of my eye.

She once burned her tail standing too close to the woodstove. It didn’t seem to hurt her but the tip was singed and made a distinctive odor. It was a long time before the fur shed and grew back soft again.

I make my way to the library. There are only a few spots filled in the lot. When I enter the lobby the quiet consumes me. The silence pulses like an invisible, soothing force as I make my way through the stacks of books to my favorite table—in the puzzle room— by the wall of windows.

The evergreen branches outside are being weighted down by the melting snow growing heavier now. The sun floods onto the side of my face warming my cheek and my hair to the touch. There are three or four steady drips of water coming off the side of the building like a string of musical notes in a rhythmic song.

Suddenly, a massive rectangle of snow falls from the roof loudly just outside the window—a crash and puff of snow lands slamming down not two feet from me.

Three, colorful windmills spin intermittently in the distance while more and more droplets join in the song.

I’m waiting for Adrian after school—the crabapple trees along the building draw me in. The crimson berries are stunning in their juxtaposition with the pearly backdrop of the season. I walk more near and examine the fruit closely discovering among the ruby beads, tiny, dried red and peach petals. I take a petal between my fingers and pull it apart gently.

It is still soft on the inside, like a recent bloom.

Adrian likes to find the places on the campus where he is light enough—the snow frozen enough—that he can balance on top of the topmost layer. From a distance—in all of his fluffy gear—he looks like an astronaut walking precariously on the moon.

I join his quest and every so often discover a place where I can keep my weight at bay and stand without pushing through to the real ground. There I am—balancing weightlessly above the many sheets—hovering in a space between worlds.

Like a child, the pleasure of conquering the natural elements washes over me. Standing just briefly above the surface of the earth—crisp air fills my lungs, a sense of spaciousness surrounds me.

I’m transported away from the noise and back into my own skin again—washed clean from the denseness of the unreal, an inner silence palpable.

I take another step and listen to the satisfying, crackling sound as my boot punches through.

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“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” —Cesare Pavese

I am tucked inside an old mill building in a favorite renovated warehouse restaurant overlooking the Androscoggin River. The day is grey and cold with a steady drizzle of rain falling and a subtle fog hovering over the landscape.

My eyes have caught sight of an apple tree perched on the bank of the river. It has lost nearly all of its leaves and color and yet one side of the top of the tree remains covered with apples. They are a deep crimson and complement the otherwise pallid scene. I imagine holding one of these apples, wondering whether they are firm—made solid by the dipping temperatures in the night under the moon’s glow—or soft, made tender by the dampness, the rain of the day. It’s hard to tell. It’s so often hard to tell what will make us strong and hardy, what will soften us on the inside.

I’m driving now in a torrential downpour. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and nearly dark. The rain is pounding on my windshield obscuring my view as I enter the highway. It isn’t clear where one lane ends and another begins. Cars are juggling for a place to be. I’m going to pick up my boys—much later than usual.

I can’t believe how dark it is.

My radio is singing out a ballad in such contrast to the weather that it feels as if I am traveling along in a warm cocoon. I’m imagining my boys, there, away from me in someone else’s care.

I can picture them—knowing just what to do—the faith they have in me to only leave them in a place where they will be safe. For just the briefest moment I get a glimpse of who I am to them. Navigating the stormy highway, I hold this thought—of me—as a mother. I wonder how it is that I came to be in charge of these two precious lives. I do not pretend to own them, and yet I guard them with every cell of my being. I marvel, again, for the briefest moment at the magnitude of this responsibility.

Here I am now, again, in the later evening. A fire is lit, the house is still. It continues to rain steadily, soothingly. This is the holiday season.

I’ve grown easier with myself and curtailed the need to get it all just-right. I’ve only just taken down the Happy Halloween sign from our door this evening—there is a string of pumpkin lights still lit in the kitchen. Their glow is festive and warm.

I am noticing a growing spaciousness within myself. I am noticing a greater tenderness with time. This is all we have—these moments—each one of them—and the manner in which we choose to greet them.

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“To see things in the seed, that is genius.” —Lao Tzu

I am home again and the pressure is off—my house so silent on this crisp, grey morning except for the churning water of the dishwasher packed to the gills having gone un-run for days now. The fourth weekend of seven in my 200-hour yoga teacher training culminated last night with a reluctant parting of ways. The palpable vibration of energy that was seeded in the beginning with our first meeting has burst forth in blossom between we students and teachers—connecting us all in a spiral—like the swirling rings of Saturn. Placing hands gently on one another in laughter-filled adjustments, and then in more reverent hands-on bodywork, our individual energies have met and merged and reproduced into something that only our unique collection of atoms and molecules and cells might generate. The result is golden and nourishing—yet lemony with zest and a bit of spice. Here I am, noticing—as the wind picks up outside—the places in me in which that energy might find a home. I can sense it exploring, expanding—discovering the nooks where it might curl up and live on—like so many of the energies that I have absorbed in my experiences with other groups and individuals in my life over so many years. There is a story of connection living within me. There is a story of connection living within us all.

I’ve just cut open a giant sweet potato—noticing it’s vibrant, raw, orange hew against my cutting board and the silvery butcher’s knife I used for cubing the pieces—the only cutting tool left and not currently packed in for washing. I’ve piled the large stack of potatoes into a pan along with an heaping scoop of ghee. The contrasts in colors are striking—the onyx skillet, the sunset vegetable, the golden coating. Inspiration strikes too when I notice my favored rice cooking container is being scrubbed clean as well. I discover a pot of leftover broth in the refrigerator, heat it up on the stove and pour in the rice—a welcomed solution. Back and forth from computer to stove I travel—checking in on this savory mix, knowing these are grounding foods that will bring me back from the ethers of collective living. A flock of ducks loudly announces itself across the sky in our backyard, landing in the bay. Spring is near.

The winter in Maine this season has been so short on snow. All of the white is melted now—gone missing are the tall drifts and copious mounds of melting expected in the dawn of March in years past. Last week it was strange to see a light snow coming down across our bare lawn. It was late in the day—and very cold. Jonah and Adrian were sort of tucked inside for play—a fire was going—and we were listening to Irish music. It is by no means always quite so picturesque in our home. But on this day it was. The snow began floating down like tiny feathers and the boys decided to pile on their winter wear and venture outside. They went and I remained in and warm and with the music. I could see them through the window in front of my kitchen sink where I was cleaning up dishes. They had found an icy patch in a little bit of woods to the side of our driveway and they were sliding around in it—bumping into each other and falling down and being loud and laughing. I was taking them in with the sounds of the dancing Irish beats with its flutes and pipes and joyful rhythms sounding out around me. They reminded me of the characters in a silent film with their big gestures and miming ways. I looked out at them and I just marveled at their tremendous, glorious freedom.

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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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“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.” —Simone de Beauvoir

Last week a friend invited Jonah, Adrian and me for an impromptu picnic just after our noon pick-up at school. She said she knew of a spot by a stream just a stone’s throw from our campus. It was a lovely location, she said, “as long as you are ok with trespassing.” My friend wasn’t sure how I felt about trespassing. I happened to have a picnic packed in my car for my boys to go to another location, so we were able to join readily and were delighted for the company. I was fine with the trespassing part of this equation as well. I had seen my friend’s car parked alongside the road before and wondered where she and her daughter had been adventuring off to. The entry into the hidden nook was quite steep and we had to make our way around some muddy, sinking spots and down a plunging incline. My friend joked that they hadn’t chosen this locale for ease of entry. Once settled we found ourselves situated on the edge of a bubbling stream—laying out shirts to sit on and beginning to pull out food. My friend’s spritely daughter quickly shed her shoes and began making her way across the water over to a big pile of rocks. My boys followed suit—only slightly more timidly. Looking up from this picturesque spot we could see a guardrail from the road and the occasional car driving by. Not long after, two more familiar faces popped up from behind the guardrail— another adventuresome mother and daughter pair. Could they join us? Of course! We all luxuriated together in these unexpected and sweet moments-in-time basking on sunny rocks like turtles and taking in our surroundings. I braided one girl’s beautiful hair and one mother felt like the Pied Piper with all of the children surrounding her—gobbling up her yummy snacks. The third mother rose again and again as a spotter for the children who needed support crossing the water. At one point, I looked over at Adrian—now solidly four and a welcome member of the bigger kid tribe. He was on the edge of the water near a little pool, enraptured in mud-ball making. His pants and arms were covered in clay and I briefly wondered how this was going to work itself out in the car. I assured myself that this would work itself out. Eventually, Jonah let me know that he was ready to move on. We had a bike ride planned and he was eager for peddling. I dipped Adrian’s hands into the brisk water rinsing him clean and we were the first to depart—journeying back out from where we came.  All of the mud has long since been washed away, reapplied and washed away again. I am sitting in a cozy spot and feeling called to continue reaching out to you. I am sitting and I am writing and I am thinking about my friend’s words again and again. I am thinking about how I feel about trespassing.

 

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“And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” —Walt Whitman

It’s a sun-drenched day here in Southern Maine and the air is brisk. The rains came pounding down last week like a steady heartbeat—lifting leaves from branches and blanketing the lawns and fields with gold and burgundy and orange. My eyes are drawn to the golden hue most of all. I’ve just come from a weekend visit to meet a brand new baby—a beautiful new boy in my tribe. Traveling alone, I had the space to linger in his gaze, taking in his otherworldly smell, reveling in the wonder of new life. His neck was silken, his grip strong. He reminded me about what is important. He took me swiftly back, too. It wasn’t long ago that my own boys were just tiny babes like him and yet, that season seems a world away. Looking into his soulful eyes, I felt a stirring.

Back at home my life is full. Jonah is rapidly approaching his 6th year and I observe him sinking his roots more and more deeply into his earthly being. He recently walked briskly toward me from his kindergarten classroom carrying a backpack that frequently gets left behind. The confidence of his stride and the straps of the pack over his shoulders reminded me of a trailblazer heading for the hills. Adrian will be four in February. He is living less in our worldly timetable and his days run together sometimes, but his legs have lengthened, his body is thinning and he is comfortable now staying for a longer day at nursery school. On Thursdays he is home for the whole day and we spend time together as a pair. Sometimes we do shopping or go visiting. Last week we decided to have a “home day.” I try to spend time one-on-one with him before taking on any of my own projects or household tasks. We sat down at our dining room table to play cards. Adrian often sits at the “head” of our table on a booster seat and he occupies this position well. His way of expressing himself is nothing less than commanding and he is sweet, too. His eyes grow wide and liquid when he speaks—like saucers filled with chocolate—and he often tips his head to the side in explanation, his hands gesturing as well, twisting his palms upward. His voice is low and strong, his smile wide, his laugh contagious. We begin our game and I settle into a place of observing him as if he is my Drishti point in a yoga balancing pose or meditation. I smile at him when he smiles—which is often—and nod my head in response to his nearly constant monologue. He keeps track of our game judiciously letting me know he is winning and when he sees that I am then winning, he is able to be gracious—a sign of his growth as well.

Adrian and I move on to work together on an “acorn art” project that we dreamed up back when the warm summer breezes caressed our bare, brown arms. I am pleasantly surprised that he is interested again, his enthusiasm having originally waned after gluing the first hundred or so acorns onto the giant outline of an oak tree. I listen on now as he takes orders from me for the number of acorns I need and retrieves a car-carrier truck to move them over to where I am gluing. We’ve coined a term for the littler acorns. We call them, “chicken littles.” We decide that we will need to tell Jonah about this later.  When we first began working on this project, I thought somehow that I needed to apply the acorns in neat rows and with delicacy, but then I saw Jonah take a big handful of acorns and place them wildly on the paper and with lots of glue, I realized the freedom—and the beauty—of his way.

 

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“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s a cool and foggy Autumn Sunday before those glorious, sweaty, summerish days arrived for one last hurrah. Our family had made our way down a dirt path to a quintessential, rocky Maine shoreline in an attempt to shake the crankiness off of our day. One boy biked there, while the other road along in a little, blue push-car that has a few thousand miles on it now. We climbed on slippery boulders over to a part of the terrain that held an enormous fallen tree that hung like a bridge. Jonah—so agile, now, in these precarious environments—leapt ahead onto the tree. I warned him not to go under it—wary of the possibility of it collapsing further. Adrian—up ahead of me—made himself clear to my husband that he could navigate the rocks himself, too. I found a seat on a damp rock and took in the scene before me. I took in the juxtaposition of the bright and mustard-yellow colored seaweed against the ashen rocks. A thin layer of fog made the contrasts that much more striking. I sat there for a long while and I picked up a lone acorn that had fallen in amongst a sea of mussel shells and periwinkles, noticing the way it seemed slightly swollen from its contact with the salt water. I sat taking in my surroundings, rubbing the side of the acorn across my lips noticing its smoothness. I sat noticing a spaciousness coming over me and my chest expanding. I rubbed the acorn back and forth across my lips again for a while. Later, I slipped the acorn into my pocket, carefully taking it home with me.

My kitchen sink is positioned conveniently in front of a window looking out at my driveway where my two boys love to play. It is only recently that I may stand here, while they are there. We have a vast lawn and yet it is this runway like surface where they enjoy best setting up their work stations, their water-chalk, their digging zones in the flower beds nearby. We have had more than a few skinned knees here, yet still they return. I’m at the sink now. I’ve come to wash my hands. I turn the water on and adjust the faucet so that a warm stream is flowing through my palms. With soap, I massage my hands together, noticing the way the tepid water relaxes me, and taking in the boys as they play. I am rubbing my hands soothingly and Adrian begins running—laughing—down the driveway with Jonah following. There is crying between them at times. But I am marveling now as I gaze out at them—there is so much laughing. Sometimes the laughing gets to be so lively while they are eating dinner that I think that they may choke. I feel guilty at times reprimanding their antics. I am taking them in from my kitchen window like so many mothers before me and Adrian’s smile is erupting with joy and Jonah’s is, too. I rinse my hands of the soap and reach for a towel.

I am remembering now. I’m remembering now how it feels to look deeply into Jonah’s sea-blue eyes. I am remembering what it means to meet his eyes with mine, crouching down, even, to really look at him when he speaks. I am remembering how he stands up just a little taller when he notices me giving him my full attention. He says more. He has so much to share. His inner-world is active and filled with thoughts waiting to be heard. I am remembering about Adrian’s chocolatey—sometimes hazel—eyes and how his become just a little more liquid when I stop and really take in his words, connecting my eyes with his. It is almost as if he is touched with emotion by my interest. Adrian has so much to say, too. Sometimes he will shout at Jonah, “I was talking first!” I am remembering both of my boys’ gorgeous and reflective eyes and I am thinking about what it means to be seen. I’m thinking about what it means to be seen when you are a child. I’m thinking of all that it means to be seen.

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” —Joseph Campbell

I am sitting at a rustic picnic bench under a sturdy wooden shelter. My legs are stretched out before me. A breeze lifts the hairs from the back of my neck brushing them across my bare shoulders, cooling me. There is a well-worn path to my right leading toward a hilly, lush trail into the woods. The sounds of birds chirping in conversation and the distant rumble of a truck delivering are surrounding me. My boys are filling jars with treasures at a morning day camp a few miles from here.

I recently meandered with a dear friend around the yard of her new home— taking in the various attributes of the land. There was a perfectly rounded sledding hill out front, a brood of chickens in the back and a home in the middle filled with windows and wonder. Surrounding us was a ring of sprawling trees. A breeze moved through these varied and magnificent beauties encompassing us as if in their embrace. Each sprawling limb was doing its part—sending the rushing air along between them. Even the tall deadened trunks—stripped of all their green for a long while now—stood in the distance holding their place in this rounded, breathing space. We wondered whether an owl might find their home in one of these stunning sculptures of nature’s unfolding. I’m taken with the power and the possibility of a circle. My breath seems to move about my body in this same circular direction—the air making its way in and expanding my abdomen, then my chest, up along my spine into the top of my head and then back down again finally settling into my sacrum. All of the spaces inside of me are transformed into a single expansive globe as my breath moves through me before finding its way out again. 

My son Jonah has become enthralled with bugs this summer. He searches for them, creating homes and sometimes bringing them to and fro in our car, around our house—like visitors. He names them and even loves some of them. Sometimes he squishes them, accidentally. Sometimes he squishes them because he is just so curious to see what happens. Moving through his fifth year, I notice him bringing more authority to his way of being. His thoughts are deepening. I observe him as closely as ever—maybe even closer—although from a greater distance. Even as he grows I notice the part of him that remains constant. There is a place in him that I recognize from when he was nestled in my arms in those very first moments—still wet from the womb. I remember that same essence from when he was a wee-toddler, my family cheering for him as he begins running for the first time down a hallway. There it is again—that dear Jonah quality—as a boisterous three year-old resisting sleep one million times over. And here  it is now—as clear as ever—as he unfolds into a school-age boy. He likes the idea of becoming a “gentleman” and he points out the “gentlemen” that we come in contact with. He notices the way they speak politely and offer to help. He notices these things ahead of me. He refers to me as a “gentle-lady” and has pointed out other gentle-ladies as we make our way through the world. He teaches me to slow down and every day—if only through this essence— he reminds me of his worth.

 I take him in—this beautiful gift-of-a-boy—and create a circular space around him in which he may expand. I try not to make the mistakes that I made when he was three years old, transitioning out of regular napping so many moons ago. Then, I tried to hold him there. I resisted and resisted and resisted. Now, I try to look ahead. I try to look ahead and I make room. I lay down my resistance to the pain that sometimes tags along with seeing your child grow. I try to lay down anything in me that might inadvertently take him away from his original essence. Like the trees, I surround him with my energy and with my love in a gentle, circular caress.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” —Anais Nin

A few weeks ago, I found myself scurrying around my back door like a mouse, grabbing any warm hat and gloves I could find and rushing to my car. I was driving now hurriedly toward Portland and noticed that my gas light was on. I noticed that my heart was racing from the rushed babysitter hand-off, from the feeling of letting others down with my delay. I texted a friend to let her know I was still coming while I pumped fuel. I began to settle into myself as I began driving again and eventually lost myself in music. Deep in lyrics, I hardly noticed as the exits flew by. It is rare that I drive at night and I felt like I was living in another time. As my littler son Adrian approaches three years old now and has stopped nursing, I’ve felt that I can enter the world again. At least, I have been dipping my toes back in, oh-so-gingerly. I’ve been in touch with long-lost-friends who I’ve missed. I’ve picked up long dried-out paint brushes and felt a part of me come alive again. I’ve begun to care once more about what happens outside of my familial cocoon. I feel a little bit like a toddler, though. There is a certain “push-pull” that I am experiencing. Some days, I wish for a more stretchy cord. Other days, I’d rather be nestled back in a dark room, rocking a baby into slumber.

I pulled up to my destination and the parking area was filled. I felt my heart fluttering again. It was not the safest of areas. I drove around for a few minutes and noticed a parking lot on the corner. I pulled in and found a space quickly, gathering my things and making sure my handbag was zipped up closed. I approached the building where I was meeting my group, looking for the right door to enter. Finally after circling the building, I found it. It was marked, “volunteers.” I was greeted at the door by Tyler who showed me where to sign in, where to put my things and then he told me to meet him in the kitchen. There I was instructed to wash my hands and was assigned to a serving station. I was told that I was lucky to not have been assigned to the dessert station. Apparently, it can get quite heated there. My job would be to dish out a heaping spoon full of pasta and explain to anyone who asked for seconds that they would need to come back once they had finished their first serving. Even in soup kitchens there is waste. I had done this work before with Coalition for the Homeless, from the back of a van under bridges and tunnels in New York City, but it had been a while. I was rusty.

I watched in anticipation as the doors opened and a flood of people came in before me, mirroring the flood of emotions I experienced upon seeing them. They quickly formed a line and were upon us. They knew this drill all to well. I took each person in as they came to me for a helping of what looked to me like a really delicious meal. Only in Maine do the soup kitchens serve steamed mussels. I hadn’t eaten much for my own dinner and was aware of my hunger. There were so many bright eyes, so many offerings of gratitude. I was amazed at both the diversity and familiarity of the individuals that I encountered. It seemed that every age and race and nationality were represented. There were men that held themselves like college professors and men who hid behind their baseball caps. There were women layered deeply for the cold and some layered in tattoos. There were many very weathered hands holding trays and some behavior indicative of severe mental illness. Some were particular of where their food was placed on the tray and others would have taken it in the palm of their hand. One woman accused me of giving her a smaller serving of pasta than someone else because she was a woman. My throat felt closed for the first 10 or 15 minutes that I was serving and I could hardly squeak out a “your welcome,” to the many “thank you’s” that were offered to me. I was overwhelmed with compassion for the need that kept coming and coming before me. I almost couldn’t believe it when someone uttered, “well, that was the small rush.” Just after that another much larger wave of people entered the building and this group seemed to be even more weary than the those who came before them.

There were so many things that crossed my mind as I continued to take in each person who came before me. I imagined their stories. I imagined what they thought of me. I imagined what it would be like to truly know each of them, and to understand what brought them there. I was aware that some had jobs and it was apparent that many of them could not work. I saw how their personalities were like a microcosm of the many varied ways in which people may be—grateful, angry, bitter, elated, humble, funny, particular, easy-going, forgiving, uncomfortable, comfortable, discouraged and hopeful. Suddenly, and as quickly as it all had begun for me, a metal gate began to be pulled down before me and as I pealed off my now sweaty rubber gloves and put my metal serving spoon down, I caught one last glimpse of the sea of people before me taking in their dinner at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen in Portland, ME. The only thing I truly knew about any of them was that they had all—each of them— been a baby at one time. Each one of them had come into this world as precious to somebody, if only for a single moment.

“There is nothing permanent except change.” —Heraclitus

This time last week it seemed that our family could have morphed into a collection of sea creatures—our bodies so well acclimated now to the sun and sand, to the salty sea air. It seemed that summer should go on forever. For days and days we had been soaking in the soothing warmth of the season surrounded by rocks and waves. Living in a climate in which these golden days are bookended by so many chillier ones made our experience all the more glorious. Just as I was beginning to bemoan the end of summer, the tide changed abruptly, reminding me of the cyclical nature of life, reminding me that the only constant in this life is that things will always change. A trip to the beach earlier this week was reminiscent of a dinner I had with a group of friends in New York City a decade ago. We had been like a family with our very own share of dysfunction and delight. After traveling through the many ups and downs of our late 20’s and early 30’s together we finally parted ways after a dinner party in which a candle was knocked over and the table cloth literally went up in flames. We left that dinner and immediately the season of our friendships as we knew them came to an end. This is how I felt when we left the beach earlier this week—as if the curtain had been drawn on our summertime production and the finale was, well, final. There had been a fierce power struggle over lunch, a family walk that ended in a stale-mate and enough tears to fill the sea itself.

By the grace of the Universe I had a singing group to meet with that same evening. There we learned songs—mostly in a style called “Mood of the 5th” that uses a central A tone and moves gently around that tone with undramatic beginnings and endings. In my mind, singing in this way, in a high-pitched voice—no matter your natural range— creates an ethereal setting allowing us to preserve for our children their ties to the heavenly realm from which they came. We use these songs to remind them of their oneness with the world and usher them (back) into a place where they know and feel that they and the world are good. That night, surrounded by a sisterhood of laughter and honey-sweetened and fresh-from-the-garden, peppermint tea, I learned three autumn songs and allowed my day to fall away. I remembered in those two brief hours of communion with other women—with other mothers—that both I and the world are good. “Golden in the morning, golden in the glen,” began one very sweet song. “Rosy apples glow,” started another which was a beloved favorite of a dear mother and friend. “Come away, said the river,” was the third, slightly melancholy yet precious song.

The next morning I brought out these verses over breakfast clean-up and continued to explore them throughout our morning together. I saw my boys in a slow and present way as I sang and found myself lingering over each word—living in each word—and noticing the tone I was making with my voice. I sang very, very slowly aware of a settling coming over our home. I sang these songs over and over until Jonah—my bigger, 4 year old boy— pointed out that I was singing autumn songs and we discussed the new season coming. Like golden leaves falling, each of us fell into our place as I sang.

Autumn is my favorite of all of the seasons. For me it has always marked the opportunity for a new beginning and I look forward to it coming here again very soon. For now though, summer lingers here in Southern Maine with very high temperatures even as the hay is baled. We were at the beach again today. I was glad for the opportunity to begin closing the door more gently on this special, salty season.

How a Single Leaf Took Me to a New Level of Letting Go

No matter how hard I try, there is so much that I cannot control. Strike that. I cannot control anything no matter how hard I try. A few months ago I came home from a doctor’s appointment in the mid-afternoon and my almost three-year-old son Jonah was cuddled up on the couch with my father who was visiting from away. My father draped his arm around my son and declared that they were two “Fat Cats.” I observed more closely that they were eating buttered (white) toast and watching Some Like it Hot, on the television, Marilyn Monroe, all steamy and kissing on Tony Curtis. Or was it Jack Lemmon? Jonah could tell you and he did in fact tell someone a few days later that he very much enjoyed watching Marilyn Bunroe with his Grandad when he had visited. All of this was potentially concerning to me because we are an almost no TV household, generally geared toward whole grains and fairly observant of naptimes. After the months I’d experienced leading up to this incident though, the kind of letting go and relinquishing control that I needed to exercise in this moment was a piece of cake. I very quickly got to the idea that my son was connecting with my father, making sweet memories, no matter how greasy my couch was getting or what ideas about kissing might be forming in my young child’s impressionable brain.

Relinquishing control when your infant son is suddenly very ill and in need of emergency surgery is another story. Normally, a 101 degree temperature and short breast-feeding hiatus would not have sent my husband Josh and me to the emergency room at 1:00 am. I was blessed with a strong intuition though, and it was this inner-knowing, more than any outward symptoms, that kept us driving south to the nearest major medical center in Portland, Maine, even as our seven month old son Adrian cooed in the back seat playing happily with his stuffed “guitar dog.” A random jingle from the toy announced his presence in the darkness every few minutes. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right and I trusted that feeling to guide us. It took many hours and a blood test (that my husband insisted upon) announcing a white blood cell count of 30,000 for the investigation of what was going on with our sweet baby to kick into high gear. Around this time a red circle began forming around my son’s belly button. It seemed highly suspect to me and I was certain it wasn’t there previously. More than one doctor attempted to explain it away as so much poking and prodding on sensitive skin. A highly attuned nurse and a bright intern took our growing concerns about this new symptom seriously and began noting the circle’s expansion by drawing a circle around the original redness. A CT-Scan soon revealed that our son had an infected abscess in his abdomen in danger of rupture and would require immediate surgery.

Within an hour of this discovery our son was out of our arms, under general anesthetic, and in the hands of a surgeon. He was in the hands of his own little – yet powerful – life force, a force, again, that I had faith in. Even up to this point I remained very calm. When my husband talked to his parents after the surgery, I heard them ask how I was handling all of this. He replied, “cool as can be.” My sister later said to me, “I’ve been crying so much, worried about Adrian. You must have been a mess!” But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t denial or shock or stoicism. I felt fully connected to the gravity of the situation. I just didn’t feel panicked or paralyzed or distraught. I was able to release on a level I was comfortable with. I felt trusting of my instincts, of the surgeon, of my son even. I drew on my many years of spiritual study and experience. I knew release. I knew surrender. I had exercised this spiritual muscle in so many ways over many years. This is an important point. It was this level of unexpected events that I was comfortable with and that I could make my way through with seeming ease.

In the weeks that followed we found out that Adrian would need a second surgery to remove the remnant from the Urachal cyst that had wreaked such havoc on his little body. In the meantime more fluid had collected in the cyst and it was a very uncomfortable time with little sleep and much anticipation for the second surgery. We plodded along and gave thanks for each moment with our cherubic baby. His smile continued to shine despite the long nights and tummy troubles. We made it through a second surgery, second hospital stay and second separation from our older son Jonah. I exhibited further comfort with the lack of control I had in all of this. People kept telling me how strong I was. What a great attitude I had. I prayed a lot. I stared at both of my children constantly, taking in their brilliance, the way they radiated with new life. I would pick Adrian up from his crib for the hundredth time in the middle of the black night and smell his neck, kiss his cheeks over and over, giving thanks for this spirit who was limiting my sleep so much. I very clearly recognized him as a being whom I would give my life for. I talked with Jonah, this other precious child in my life, attempting to glean from him how all of this made him feel and spent as much time as I could playing with him, dancing freely and giving voice to the endless line of stuffed animals who he wanted to talk.

It wasn’t until after the dust had settled from this tumultuous time that I experienced the real pain of surrender. It turns out there was a point where I would no longer stay calm and trust. Thankfully, it happened in an almost comical way. It was a very beautiful fall day in Southern Maine. The water glistened with a warm Indian Summer sunlight. The leaves painted the landscape in gold and burgundy. There were no further surgeries scheduled and a dear friend had come to our home for a visit with her daughter. We decided to go for a walk to “Jonah’s tree” – a tree we had discovered a few years back on a neighbor’s property. It was a favorite destination and we had through the years marked Jonah’s growth with photos under this tree. Its’ draping branches created a cozy nook perfect for learning about roots and branches and such. At first Adrian was content with watching us from his stroller as we explored under the tree but soon he wanted to be included. Who could blame him? I picked him up and ducked under a large branch to bring him closer to Jonah and our friends. I was talking and enjoying the moment when all of a sudden Adrian reached up and pulled a leaf off of the tree and quickly put it in his mouth, biting off a piece with his two small teeth – all in one motion! I took the remaining leaf from his hand and rushed out from under the tree so that I might see better and hopefully remove the gnawed-off leaf from his little mouth. I was panicked at the idea of him either choking on the tiny leaf or being poisoned. Out from under the tree, in the light, I could see the bright green leaf under his darting tongue and then it was gone. I felt my body grow cold and my stomach turn upside down. I looked at my friend wide eyed and we began discussing whether or not I knew what kind of tree this was. I did not. I had often wondered and even asked a few people but had never found out. We quickly gathered the other children together and headed back to the house, my friend asking if I had a number for poison control. I don’t know whether or not I revealed this outwardly, but I fell apart inside for a moment. I could not bare the idea of my son going through anything else. What if he needed his stomach pumped? What if I had to call an ambulance? My husband was going to kill me! Just about then Adrian coughed a little. My heart stopped briefly. We picked up our pace.

Once back home, Adrian was happy as a clam but I was scouring the internet trying to discover the name of the tree. My wise friend had the wherewithal to bring a branch home with us. I sheepishly called my pediatrician, embarrassed at such lack of care for my infant who had recently undergone not one, but two, major surgeries! They referred me to poison control who assured me that Adrian was going to be fine. It turns out that there are very few poisonous plants indigenous to Maine and even if the tree were toxic, in such a small amount, it would be nearly harmless. The real risk had been choking and we had already passed that potentiality. My friend and I let out a deep sigh and managed to laugh a little at the irony that that my breaking point turned out to be a leaf. I imagined a lone leaf drifting through the air, making its’ way down and settling gracefully onto the ground.

I have reflected greatly on this experience and my eyes have truly been opened to the profound way in which we cannot control how life’s lessons will be presented to us or how our enlightenment will occur. This is not to stay that we are powerless by any means or that we do not have the opportunity to create our own realities. I believe wholeheartedly that we do. It’s just that I’ve come to know deeply that the world will speak to us according to its own wisdom. If we are lucky it will do so with humor or irony. May we ride the wave? Yes. Steer? We can try. I’ve learned that I could take my son to the best hospital and trust in the best surgeon and know that machines would be monitoring him and pray and give thanks and trust and trust and trust but I could not control his reaching spontaneously for a leaf and quickly putting it in his mouth. I will continue to try to protect my children in the very best way that I know how for as long as I can all the while knowing that they have a journey of their own to live out and I am just along for the ride.

** This is a walking meditation. Find a quiet place in nature where you can walk. Be conscious of your footsteps and observe your surrounding as if for the first time. With each step imagine your grip loosening on areas of your life that you may have been trying to control.

** Find a handful of pebbles and along your path allow these pebbles to represent ways in which you try to control what cannot be controlled. Release the fear of losing, release all of the talking and release the judgment of yourself and others.

** Commit to an afternoon of play with your little ones where you allow them to be exactly who they are. Allow them to get too dirty. Allow them to talk too loud. Witness where they take you if you let them.