“Our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving and generous relationships with others.”— Dalai Lama

*This is the 4th (and final) installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here and follow along with each subsequent post.

I’ve been slightly delayed getting winter tires onto my car this year—one blustery storm already gone past presenting Jonah with a premature opportunity to inquire about sleeping outside in his igloo this winter.

Igloos are warm!

Autumn passed by in a flash like the view from a bullet train on a rural railway, unwilling to slow for the seasonal chores to get done. A rush of dark peach, red wine and shimmery gold went surging across the landscape in a flood of cascading leaves hidden from the dull palette of a dreary hospital room where I spent several weeks in October with my mother.

It’s a strenuous task rolling the second set of wheels up the steep stairs from the basement through the garage and lifting them into the back of my car so they can be switched-out for the season.

Last year Jonah had grown strong and sturdy enough to become my partner in the lifting—he enjoyed discovering how he could lift me, too.

We stood facing each other behind my car, the tire positioned vertically between us. I had urged him but was reminding myself as well, use your legs not your back and counted one, two, down (this is where we were supposed to bend our knees and engage our legs) up!

We gave the tire a little bounce to create momentum lifting it into the spot where I once spilled a blueberry pie fresh from the oven—as evidenced by a purple stain.

With all four tires loaded and my lower-back intact, I recognized I had crossed a threshold—my son now officially both willing and able to assist me with physical labor.

Driving through that first storm with my more-slippery tires still on I gripped the steering wheel a little more tightly than usual—trying to stay aligned with the places where other vehicles had already traveled—and made it to an appointment that didn’t end up mattering all-that-much.

It was like entering into retreat to be out in the stillness of the blanketed morning especially in the places filled with trees and where I could drive slowly taking in the quieting display of glimmering light reflecting off all of the snowy surfaces—fields and mailboxes and the slope of the rocky coastline.

I drove beneath an arching row of branches glazed with a billion or so little ice crystals—spread wide across the road as if extended in celebration like a bride’s white-gloved arms outstretched on her wedding day.

Since then we’ve had heavy and unrelenting rains transforming the pristine, white layer into puddles of slush and mud with the occasional remnant of a tall pile of snow pushed aside by a plow melting at a more leisurely pace along with the one last clump of an icy mix where Jonah had begun to build his igloo.

Adrian likes to point out that it isn’t-even-officiallywinter, yet—the solstice still a few weeks off. He isn’t taunting so much as being exacting in a way that reflects the precise nature of his mind and how he interprets the world.

I aim to preserve the things he’s come to us with, to allow him to unfold without too much tampering. His impulse toward only-the-facts feels like it might have a purpose one day perhaps coupled with his vision of himself as a cheetah and powerful king.

His voice shouted out through the clearing of woods where he and Jonah were playing snug in their new coats with the orange and red stripes around the chest—a convenient splash of color in a season and state where hunting remains a long-held tradition.

It was nearly dark at 4:30 as I walked swiftly up the pathway—the faint hint of twilight glowing along the edge of the field in the distance.

He must have recognized my silhouette, the gait of my walk. It’s remarkable the number of ways in which we might know a person—the sound of my mother’s charm bracelet getting ready for church, one sister’s voice for her dog, the other’s penchant for telling us what we should eat.

I heard him shout out through the quiet campus to Jonah.

She’s here!

Running toward me he wrapped his arms around my waist and tipped his head back to look up at me. We had met in a place where a light was shining off the side of a building and so I could see his face—delighted, sparkly eyes and cheeks, speckled with mud—like prominent freckles— along with a large splattering of wet sludge on the top of his hood.

I noticed his bare hands and asked where his gloves were. He pointed to a little play house. I walked over to where it was and in the dark I stuck my head into the doorway, feeling for the gloves and finding them—cold and wet.

A few days later we had lunch—just the two of us—at a Japanese restaurant.

In the car on our way there, we played a game in which he drew a circular, cardboard chip out of a bag and read (or spelled out to me) two words. Each chip had a word written on either side.

 Hearing and sight.

Surf and turf—this one I had needed to explain to him.

Pumpkin pie and s’mores.

The idea was that you were meant to choose between the two words in order to share in your preferences and ultimately in-yourself with the other person.

We discussed at length about how Adrian would much rather have his hearing intact than his site. He equated being able to hear with his ability to talk and found this to be most important.

He does have a lot to say.

For me, it was—hands-down—my sight that I would keep.

I could not imagine a world in which I would not see the face of the boy in the rear-view mirror again.

Adrian has been coming to the Japanese restaurant since he was an infant asleep in his car-seat and eventually he became an amazing edamame eater there. In a video from when he was about two years old he demonstrates his humble beginnings with this beloved cuisine.

He was working very hard at opening a bowl-full of spring-green pods. His hair was light blond then and curled up at his neck, he wore a navy, rain jacket covered with yellow and green frogs and his face would get all scrunched up in his effort as if he were opening a jar with a really tight lid.

Each time he was able to finally release one of those stubborn beans, he would look up at us—so proud of himself—shouting out in his low-for-his age voice, I di’ it’ agaiiiin!

He did this over and over, relentless in his effort and announcement of his success.

When we entered the restaurant recently, before I could stop him, he bee-lined for the hard-candy wrapped in the shiny paper in a basket by the cashier quickly putting a piece in his mouth and another in his pocket.

It was less-subtle than he thought.

He mirrors the growing independence of his older brother with abandon and there is (almost) no stopping him.

At a point while we were eating, he was on his second pair of chopsticks—the first having fallen to the ground. He was navigating them quite easily but a bit carelessly. I let him know I would not be asking for a third pair if he dropped those.

He grinned at me knowingly.

There was a television over the sushi bar showing alpine ski racing. I was grateful it wasn’t turned to CNN. He looked out of one eye at the screen as he lifted a long udon noodle high up with his chopsticks, tipping his head to one side and slurping it up—little bits of sauce gathering at the corners of his mouth.

I observed him as I ate—taking in his still relative-newness.

We shared a look when in his eagerness he nearly dropped the chopsticks again.

We discussed the skiers—who used their poles more, which countries the flags represented and mostly, the incredible death-defying speed at which they were flying down the mountain.

I thought about what it would be like to watch my own sons ski in that precipitous place and what it would mean if they fell. We talked a little about how dangerous it looked—they were skiing so fast—and I acknowledged in the back of my mind the idea that whatever my children love, I will find my way to encourage.

I commented to the server at the gelato shop next door that I was happy they were using reusable tasting spoons. I had been bothered by the number of plastic utensils a single person could use in figuring out what flavor to choose. He shared that the store intended to switch to entirely compostable bowls and spoons by the end of next year and they were already well on their way.

I suggested we sit on the leather couches toward the back of the room where the Salvador Dali inspired painting depicted the parallels between melting clocks and dripping ice cream.

Adrian chose a leather chair next to the couch and as he consumed sour-cherry gelato mixed with cake-batter—his choice—he began bouncing in his seat to the tempo of the Bob Marley song playing overhead.

Everything’s gonna’ be alright.

As he ate he bounced twice on one side of the wide seat, then twice on the other side and then twice in the middle so he was creating a sort-of-triangle in rhythm with the beat.

I asked him if he could just eat but his ability to slurp up his gelato, bounce, smile and talk all at the same time negated any sense of seriousness from my face along with the impression that he needed to respond to my request.

On one of his bounces, I watched as his spoon flipped out of his hand, landing on the dingy floor. He looked at me sheepishly and with his doe-like eyes asked if I would get him another one.

I considered the irony as I walked to the counter and asked for another, plastic spoon.

When I returned, Adrian began talking about how the polar bears are having to swim further and further to access food in the Arctic. It related to our discussion about composting and was also a part of an ongoing conversation we have in our family around Jonah and Adrian’s vision of one-day building a sanctuary to protect animals and particularly endangered species—not a small dream (or burden) for such young minds to shoulder.

He continued to bounce—new spoon in hand—as he declared that he was going to save the polar bears. Bob Marley sang out his support with the soothing lilt of his song and Adrian didn’t seem burdened at all. He exuded an air of confidence in his belief that he could one-day make a difference in the world.

I thought about The Book of Joy written in-part by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu—the last of the three books that had accompanied me through a recent, difficult time.

In the lens of the moment, Adrian appeared to me as the complete embodiment of joy.

The nature of children and their capacity for presence in play—and desserts—is a powerful place to begin in contemplating what it means to cultivate presence.

The children with whom the Dalai Lama celebrated his 80thbirthday (and whom he described in his book) live like he does—in exile in India away from their homes and families at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala. The majority left their homes at age five or six in order to be educated in the Tibetan tradition and will not see their families again until, perhaps, adulthood.

At the celebration, when they described about their journeys, they cried and became completely overwhelmed with emotion. Ultimately, they explained how they had been able to return to joy through the loving care of their teachers and they had learned to take a more expansive view of their lives—recognizing the gift of their education and the ability for their culture to live on through them because of their sacrifice.

I shed many, quiet tears on the flight back home after being with my mother reading these particular stories of suffering —more than in response to any of the many other adversities I had read about (and witnessed) in my recent study of hardship.

The Dalai Lama often speaks about how if he had not been exiled from Tibet—the most dangerous, frightening and sorrowful event of his life—he would not have had the opportunity to spread his message of peace around the world.

Without his struggle, he might have remained a quiet monk in a distant land unconnected from the many lives he has touched.

The sky has been closed up for a few days now and the morning sun radiant casting a wide and warm glow in contrast to the dipping temperatures in the night.

I am on the look-out for snow—for the feeling of peace and the quieting in the air and in my being engendered by its presence. I am checking in on the condition and luminescence of my own heart counting on its warmth—and its wisdom—to sustain me in even the darkest of nights.

 

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“Every individual soul chooses the significant people in that life.”—Brian Weiss, MD

There are very few shopping malls or large-chain book stores in the state of Maine. I prefer it this way—for the forests where I yearn to wander to remain sprawling, and the shops less-plentiful. I tend to do my acquiring locally where the parking is limited and the offerings distilled. The one exception being LL Bean’s super-sized, 24-hr campus where I once purchased a new pump for an inflatable air-mattress at midnight—the starry sky filled with moonlight and autumn’s chill, my pregnant belly loath to sleep on a deflating, rectangular balloon in our new and yet-to-be-furnished home.

Despite my preference for the quaint, I sometimes find myself in South Portland in a more heavily-populated, shopping nucleus with a few minutes to spare. Jonah, Adrian and I venture into the massive bookstore across from Macy’s with its rows of bargain books, colorful display of calendars and the latest works to top the New York Times Best Seller list.

My boys beeline for the children’s section of the discount isle where the books are immense and overflowing with colorful photos and plentiful information. They pounce on the materials about wild animals or superheroes and sprawl out on the tightly-woven, carpeted floor as if they are lounging on the wool rug at home between their two twin beds.

I hang around for a moment assessing their safety—wondering whether their bodies draped across the aisle will bother anyone—and then wander to a nearby magazine display filled with glossy art & design and travel covers. I take in the exquisite images—minimalist living rooms with flourishing, lavender orchids, photo ops of celebrities at art openings and fashion week, rugged, backpacking getaways to faraway places—take only what you’ll need.

I imagine purchasing a few, tearing out the most appealing photos and creating a collage of what I hope is yet to come—acknowledging the paradoxical desire I possess for both a deepening-connection with my fellow humans and a simultaneous extraction from the relentless connectivity of modern life.

Recently Jonah was exploring the webpage Google Earth. We were having a discussion about the Dalai Lama and we opened the program because I wanted to show him where Tibet was located on a map. He took the little, yellow-person icon from the right corner of the screen and dropped it into the mountainous region to the northeast of India. When the frame opened-up to a satellite view we saw the image of two backpacks lying on a mountain peak—the shadows of two hikers hovering over the packs as captured by a lens in space.

It illustrated so succinctly a symbolic form for the places and manner in which I would still like to go. It captured the dream of unplugged connection.

Walking away from the magazine isle empty-handed and toward a display table, I thought about the deceptive-promise of a polished life. I thought about how so-much of what I value and what has made life meaningful to me could be interpreted as too-ordinary—too-messy, or even too-traumatic—to be depicted as something to aspire to as a benchmark on the pathway to greater contentment.

I also contemplated what it means to weigh the desire-for-more against a backward-trust-fall-into-the-moment—brothers lying on the floor-of-a-store turning pages on a September afternoon between appointments tipping the scales heavily.

I like to believe that we have the opportunity in life to grow through joyful expressions and experiences—that we might remember our divinity without having to pass through a doorway of pain. And yet, some of the most challenging experiences of my life have propelled me infinitely farther into my capacity for compassion than any of the chapters graced with ease.

It is unusual for me to buy three books for myself at once, especially when they each explore—from diverse perspectives—the topic of personal-evolution, although I am almost always reading something in this genre.

I was sucked-in by the circular sticker on the front cover promising that if I bought two, I would receive a third book for free—a bibliophile’s extra donut in the baker’s dozen.

Deciding to purchase the one with the sticker was an obvious choice. I had read one of Brené Brown’s other works and was a believer in her stepping-into-the-arena message.

Her research and the book I had read were inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s thoughts on celebrating the brave few who expose themselves to vulnerability through expressions of their most daring, truest works—regardless of outcome—while unmasking the critics who cast judgement from the sidelines.

Reading Daring Greatly helped me to begin telling the truth of my experiences and showed me how-to-know who could be entrusted with those personal discoveries. This book invited me to live and create at a level that was measured by my own criteria and not by the model of the masses.

I had never connected with the fact that Brené Brown was from Texas—a place for which I have complex feelings—and I-for-certain had no-idea I would be in the Lone Star State anytime soon and specifically in her city, Houston.

The second book I chose was sitting in clearly the wrong spot in front of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth—one of the most transformative reads of my life. Someone had obviously picked the book up, decided against it and put it back incorrectly on the wrong shelf.

I followed-suit, picking it up and placing it back down again several times—in hesitation— wondering why Eckhart Tolle hadn’t written anything new, anyway.

One of his brilliant books would have been an easier selection.

I was both weary of the subject matter—wanting so much to sink-into this lifetime—and somehow feeling like the book wouldn’t let me leave without its presence in my hand. I had read another title more than fifteen years ago by the same author—a psychiatrist who utilizes past-life-regression to assist people in overcoming obstacles in their lives. He was a Columbia University and Yale Medical School graduate who had risked his credibility in order to explore an esoteric path that lead to his blossoming life and the healing of many people.

Some explain away the idea of experiences from past-lifetimes impacting our current lives as illusions created by the subconscious mind. Even so, I found this author’s first book compelling—especially relating to the feeling of having a deeper knowledge of some people beyond our current, shared life-experiences.

I remember once meeting someone for the first time and the thought immediately coming to my mind—Oh, there you are.

I succumbed and added the book to my pile.

The third choice was a less-complicated selection—recommended by a woman whom I admire and who recently lost her dearest friend to cancer. She has been utilizing the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in their Book of Joy to wade through her grief.

I stumbled upon a talk given by the Dalai Lama in Central Park in New York City in the summer of 1999. Although I was on the very outside of the many rows encasing him, his simple message of compassion and impermanence—his gentle presence and wisdom—has stayed with me.

I was eager to learn from him again.

At the check-out there was a plentiful display of candy and tchotchkes and the news that my particular book choices did not qualify for the sale mentioned on the sticker.

I felt like I was playing a game of whac-a-mole with Jonah and Adrian—keeping their hands away from the many tempting treats and toys as I chatted with the cashier about the confusion over the sale.

I shrugged off the full-price status of my purchase and gathered my books along with a stack I had bought for the boys.

The expansive parking lot and the inside of my car radiated heat as we climbed back in—Jonah and Adrian finding a good spot for their books in the seat between them while I tucked mine on the floor beside me.

Labor Day Weekend and one-final, end-of-summer getaway were on the horizon.

All was well.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story and the desire to do justice to the nuances, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. I hope you will enjoy my journey through these three books and the way they spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is struggling with a sudden illness. Thank you for any good thoughts of healing you might send her way.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We become something new—without even knowing it.

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

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

We’re almost there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we use our money to get something?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We added it to our collection to bring home.

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

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

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

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

I have been insisting they carry more and more.

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

Can we get a root-beer float instead?

No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It is so breezy here in this unfamiliar spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We live in such an enchanting world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were in a hurry to get back outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.

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

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

Together we all quickly went to the question of rest.

Eat. Drink. Sleep.

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

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

This is where I thought it got interesting.

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

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

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

This sort of blew me away.

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

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

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

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

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

They had taken my one question and run with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This morning was no exception.

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

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

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

It turned out to be a spidery place.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have exhibited anything but balance in my response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I invited Adrian to join me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t notice.

Suddenly, my body became chilled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes working through a knot is warranted.

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

Neither life nor the unraveling of knots are destination events.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mommy, look at my bracelet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I noticed a rustling behind her.

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

I thought maybe she was holding them back standing there.

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

I knew it was risky.

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

I knew in an instant what had been going on.

She had been standing there nursing her pups.

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

Then she began to run.

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

The other sat there dazed having been knocked loose.

His body language said, what just happened?

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

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

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

There is no right way, either.

This I have come to know.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Anything is possible.

Greater peace.

Full-circle connection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pausing.

Waiting.

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

Turning inward—quiet, still, listening.

Then outward—full, radiant, in-bloom.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian once spotted a large creature in that tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“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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“Out of difficulties grow miracles.”—Jean de la Bruyere

The puzzle room is occupied by two women—huddled in the padded chairs, conversing. I’ve made my way to the backside of the library—lined with a row of floor-to-ceiling windows jutted up against a dense forest.

The sun is pitched high in the sky—unencumbered by clouds—painting more-white the few birch peppered among the ample pines. Among the coniferous species, these imposing hardwoods—known for their flaky bark that burns so vigorously in woodstoves—stand out like skeletons, bleached and wiry.

Thirty-six degrees feels balmy after the recent stretch of below zero temperatures—days so cold wool-covered fingers ached and children’s cheeks grew rosy dangerously fast as they played on the swing. Layers of clothing have been shed, the build up of winter’s accumulations rapidly turning to liquid.

Growing heavier in its altered state, the snow tumbles down clumsily from high above in the trees leaving the bottom branches flapping—like wings.

Birds—awakened by this January thaw—flit around praising the warmth. A chainsaw gnaws in the distance and I keep my head tilted upward—absorbing the blue sky through branches. The places behind my eyes soften—like tepid puddles.

I could cry for the beauty of just being.

In a world so entranced by production and acquisition, quiet sitting and reflecting feels like a weighty act of rebellion.

The relief from the fierce chill is like a heavy backpack stripped off and placed on the ground—mirroring the sensation of living when life’s trials have eased.

A slight breeze kicks up and all of the branches begin to flutter ever so slightly—the peaks of the trees sway almost imperceptibly from side to side in a gentle rhythm as if in response to a silent symphony playing out the story of the lifting freeze.

My friend dropped off a milk crate and three plastic bags filled with plants I offered to adopt when her mother moved to a nursing home. Many of the plants were wilted and in need of care. Five of them were orchids.

I had warned her of my troubled history with most houseplants even as I hoped voraciously to offer them a loving home. I don’t think she believed me.

I wondered if she thought my affinity for all things green translated into an innate ability to sustain life force deeply dependent on a precarious balance of light, water and nourishment.

“I know you have a green thumb,” she said when she dropped the plants at my house—like orphans in a basket on a doorstep—the weather still frigid then.

Jonah and I took the bags and crate from her in the doorway by the garage—brisk air blew into the toasty, warm kitchen. In our socks we stood on the floral rug and waved goodbye, thanking her, she thanking us.

There are a slew of orchids that have died within my care. Exquisitely beautiful and promising in the grocery stores and garden centers, they are short-lived in my home.

Placing an ice cube in their soil religiously on Fridays—like a celebration of the coming Sabbath—I imagine them thriving. I take in their beauty as long as I can, somehow knowing their eventual fate.

Inevitably—as if inscribed in their design—I watch as their petals drop off and their leaves wilt.

I frantically over-water them. They quickly perish.

In the early morning after Autumn died, I walked aimlessly through a fluorescent-lit grocery store. Two robust and flowering plants caught my eye. I bought them both—their white flowers seeming a felicitous memorial to the loss of my beloved, feline friend.

Around Christmas I found in a hardware store two marine-colored, glossy ceramic pots and bought those too. I placed the plants in the pots in the kitchen where I could nurture them in the way I had Autumn—attentively and throughout the day.

Recently I read that grief is the overwhelming sensation of love with nowhere to land. Each time I’ve walked past these two plants —a cyclamen and a hydrangea—I have placed love in their midst. I have allowed their presence to soothe me. I have fretted over them, too.

I removed the various plants from the bags and crate and began tending to them. I snipped off dying leaves and topped off the pots with a bag of potting soil I had on hand.

My kitchen sink became filled with verdant leaves and soil circling the drain.

Outside the snow was hardening, inside a burgeoning conservatory was coming to life.

I found a spot on a plant stand in the corner by the stairs for the leafy bonsai that was thriving more than most of the new arrivals. I wondered whether I would know how to care for it properly, or if it would freeze to death being so near our large, front picture window that emanates cold, Maine, winter winds.

I felt intermittently hopeful and apprehensive—like toad, in the Frog & Toad story, “The Garden,” in which toad wants to have a garden like frog and proceeds to hover over his recently planted seeds anxiously—trying to will them to grow.

I recommitted to the other plants in our home that in some ways I have neglected. I fed them all with fresh soil and plant food and water. I made little arrangements of similar species, grouped together.

One of the largest plants was drooping badly. It was the last that I tended to. I removed many long, yellowing and some drying leaves. It drank up the water I poured into it. I placed it among a group of plants at the top of our stairs.

In the morning, I was encouraged to see that it—along with my own Christmas cactus that I’ve somehow managed to keep alive for eight years—had risen upright in the night. Its leaves stood tall and expansive. It radiated, “I’m alive, I’m alive” into the space.

Our home is bright in many ways. In the winter months, though, direct sunlight and warmth on windowsills are hard to come by. This can be difficult for all living beings.

I can give the plants water and attention and artificial light. In this season, I cannot bring them to the sun.

My hope is that the light I carry within—the energy I have in me that is seeking a place to reside—can find a place to land in these forces of nature nourishing them until the earth tilts toward the sun once again—lengthening our days and fueling our souls.

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“Clouds symbolize the veils that shroud God.”—Honore de Balzac

My head has been in the clouds these last few days—the sky scape with its disparate displays drawing my attention upward. Throughout the day, the clouds are spread out like puzzle pieces awaiting connection, their texture like stretched wool, the colors muted with pastel blues and the slightest tint of pink separating the willowy masses. The canvas of clouds feels near—hovering—almost as if it belongs to another planet, another world completely.

At sunset a vast contrast occurs—the sky dividing into fragments of intense streaks of sienna and amaranth pink. Thin slivers of bright, golden light divide the layers of color. Tall pines become black towers in the foreground of the vibrant display as we drive through forested lands, peering for a glimpse of the setting sun.

The clouds at this hour disappear all together.

As an early-riser and also sometimes-keeper-of-the-night, I mostly collapse into bed dead-tired, falling off to sleep within moments. I fall asleep mid, “thank you,” a parade of images from my day flooding through me. I like this feeling. I watched my father work himself to the bone for much of my life and I’ve come to understand the impulse— the easing quality of meaningful hard work—and the contentment of collapsing at the end of the day, mission accomplished.

Occasionally, I will prioritize sleep, aware of the opportunity to be transported to a healing and renewing place. I dream more vividly and grasp for the messages imparted. I wake up feeling as if my brain has been reset. I recently got into bed before I was bleary-eyed sensing that it might be a while before I slept. I laid on my back—a heavy, down blanket covering me—and placed one hand on my abdomen and the other on my heart. I dropped down into myself—like falling into a vast, dark night’s sky. I might have been a feather floating in space.

I was aware of my spine but I experienced everything else as pure energy. At first, there were clouds huddled in my midst—bunched up and stormy—heavy—especially around where my throat and lower back might have been. I noticed a part of myself that began winnowing out the particles of these billowy vapors, freeing them to return to their rightful place. The essence of me was like a sheet being pulled back taut and tucked in.

I drifted in the wake of this movement noticing a greater buoyancy of my being, noticing a sense of having been recharged and made right again.

Jonah is nearly nine years old now. The top of his head rests at the top of my sternum and he likes to show how strong he is by picking me up. He bends at the thighs—creating a firm center of gravity—and wraps his arms around me mid-leg, lifting me into the air at an angle—like a rocket ready to be launched.

I feel like I might topple over and yell, “that’s enough, that’s enough!” He insists in his demonstration I not hold onto anything. I try to be a good sport and cooperate, tightening my body like a dancer in a lift.

Despite his strength, he’ll still climb into my lap and let me hold him. I wrap my arms around his waste or chest hoping we’ll always be so close, knowing it is impossible.

When he was littler and would sit in my lap, I would sometimes pat him on the back almost like I was playing a drum. Once his spritely friend was over and I was patting his back and she exclaimed, “why are you beating him?” She laughed and laughed. Whenever I did that to him—and I sometimes still do—it felt like I was helping him to come more fully into his body. It felt like I was grounding his airy nature and securing him onto the earth.

Yesterday I had intended to begin working on the second part of a two-piece creation in my, “Free to Play” art project. I had first created an image of my younger son Adrian leaping off of our back porch—his pocket goldfish-orange. I planned to create an image of what precipitated the jump—the crouch before the launch.

I went in search of the tracing paper I use in the first phase of the work and saw—and remembered—that I had finished the roll. I didn’t have time to go out and buy more materials before school pick-up so I began looking around to see if there were some scraps of paper I could tape together and use.

I couldn’t find any but I did come across a sketch of a woman—folded over in grief—that I had worked with previously.

I felt inspired to return to that image with the time I had. I could feel myself returning, also, to the original joy of this process without the constraints of planning and instead following an inner guidance system that drew me to particular colors and textures and shapes and showing me how to piece them together in an intuitive way—like a puzzle put together in the dark.

As I worked, I noticed a thinning out of the energy within me—the bunched up places unfurling and returning to balance. I felt a sense of relief and as if the atmosphere was clearing and a thousand tiny lights were being switched back on—brightening the way and returning me to firm footing once again.

 

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“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” —Anais Nin

I was wearing a favorite dress the day we closed on our house in Maine— the front beginning to fill out with my rounded, stretching, pregnant belly. This was our second attempt at ushering in a new life, the first lost just a few days before the departure for an intricately planned trip back to Spain—a place I had lived and studied in my final year of college.

I somehow blamed myself for the pregnancy ending. It was my body I had no control of and I couldn’t seem to will the hormones in the right direction. My skin crawled when people minimized the loss with their relentless insistence that it happens all of the time. They seemed not to understand my attachment to the dream—a vision that had died along with the tiny beating—I had briefly seen it beating—heart.

While I was living in Spain—with my youthful rounded face, platinum dyed blond hair—I had joined a group of students traveling and together we had boarded a ferry out of Le Havre, France heading to Ireland and spent a spooky Halloween night crossing the Celtic Channel. We played cards, smoked Fortunas and never slept.

We were greeted at dawn in Cork by a white sliver of light glimmering off the water and the rocky coastline—much like the Maine landscape. Eventually we made our way to Galway where we were met at the train station by a woman offering her home as a hostel. Boats rocked gently in the bay painting the horizon in vibrant pastels enhanced by the sun—pink, mauve and baby blue.

We slept in twos lined up together in feathered beds and woke to an Irish breakfast like that of my childhood, the table filled with fluffy eggs and buttered toast, pancakes and tea. I felt at home in a way that seemed woven within my DNA, tracing back to my Irish heritage. I thought that I could have lived there or had been there before.

We found a second hand store and bought old, woolen sweaters to keep off the chill and made our way to a bar where we mixed with the locals. I met a young man—a fellow student—who asked me what I thought about “the troubles” and the recent strides toward peace. I could hardly make out what he was saying through his thick brogue and the hum of the packed pub but I knew he was referencing the years of conflict in Northern Ireland that has spilled over into his and other parts of the world.

Later we huddled together by an enormous ventilation system of a warehouse building, trying to stay warm with the rush of air from the fans. I saw him once again a few years later, this time on the other side of the pond. We took a night-time carriage ride together through Central Park, his friend was our driver. We flipped through a copy of LIFE Magazine—where I worked at the time—marveling at the image of a giant sea creature that was featured within its pages. Only now do I fully understand how much the peace—the glorious end to the troubles—had mattered to him.

My dress on the day of the closing was argyle and matched the colors of the season with its golden yellow and pumpkin orange diamond design. I remember stopping to buy an additional layer—a grey sweater—the weekend we drove up from New York City to contemplate a move one last time. There was a chill in the air that had a way of working itself right into your bones. It was familiar and met the hover of fog and dense sea air in the perfect dance of climate and mood.

Keys in hand we drove to our new home, the route winding and long. We didn’t yet anticipate every steep hill and sharp turn, we didn’t yet know intimately the trees, the places where friends lived, the spots where cell service could be lost or found.

I had lived out a pattern of moving—either across the country or across town—every seven years for much of my life and this move fell precisely into the timing of yet another shift. Still, on that seemingly long drive from the nearest town onto the peninsula where our house sits perched on a tidal cove, I wondered whether we had made a decision that would nourish the tender nature of my soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Give light and people will find the way.” —Ella Baker

I’ve come to the front porch where the sun is concentrated and making my hair warm to the touch, my wool socks redundant. The unseasonable presence of heat these last weeks has continued to grow my flower garden despite October’s arrival. The grass remains a vibrant green and slightly damp from the night’s dew, a few leaves lay golden on the ground where they should be—at rest this time of year.

Bees and butterflies have flocked to our flowers—sedum and daisies and rose hips—like tourists to these parts arrive in the summertime drawn to our rocky coastline and plentiful trails to explore. My kitty, Autumn—born in and named for this season and usually kept indoors—is creeping around the yard, low to the grown as if in pursuit of some unsuspecting prey. A sizable bumblebee lands on my white shirt again and again, intent on abstracting the nectar from my sleeve. I twice use a nearby branch to remove her gently and send her on her way.

The Summer Solstice—the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere—is often celebrated as a time of transition, a moment for letting go. On the solstice this summer the sky glowed a vibrant, melon orange and soft, peony pink at sunset as I drove away from the scene of a poignant loss. Three children whose father had just died, for the moment within my care. Together we made the sunset our distraction, the miles passing by as we traveled to my home where my own two children would be waiting to meet us.

Their moods rapidly swung back and forth from despair to wonder to shock over and over again. I told them that the sky—that breathtakingly beautiful display of color—was their father speaking to them, that in a sense he was still present and would always be so. I said the sky was a reflection of his spirit casting off of a world where his body wouldn’t let him be. There is a can of Moxie sitting on the bookshelf of my dining room now. The children’s eyes brightened when they noticed it on their last visit. The orange design with its large white letters outlined in blue was a favorite of our friend and serves as a colorful reminder of the way in which he lived.

A few hours later—after getting the children to sleep and after midnight—my phone rang. It had to be my friend, the children’s mother. But it wasn’t. It was the news of yet another departure. Not one, but two lovers-of-life gone in a flash. My body took over—shaking and sobbing in a way that I had never before experienced. Life has a way of surprising us sometimes.

In my laundry room I’ve since placed a photo on the folding table of me as a bride—my face glowing with fewer lines and fuller with youth. My waist is so completely embraced in the image I can almost feel the warmth of my Aunt still surrounding me. She stole my thunder that day on the dance floor at my wedding reception. Having Down Syndrome only made her all the more appealing to most people. She took on the body she was given—or chose— with gusto and taught us to look deeper than the exterior. Job well done.

Throughout the summer and into this balmy fall, I have found myself cycling through various states of sadness and fear as I’ve born witness to the never ending news cycle of suffering caused by both natural and human destruction. It’s tempting to get lost in all of the sorrow. It would be easy to lose hope or to check-out. I find solace in the natural world. I find hope in circling back to what it is that I can do to contribute to a more loving and just world.

We are all called in different ways. It is in deep inner listening that we each have the opportunity to shift and come upon our own unique contribution. If we go slowly and with insight in the direction of these whispers, together we may be able to find a path of healing and create the prospect of safety and joy for all—each one of us—as one.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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