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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In these hurried and divisive times this occurrence seems miraculous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I photographed him, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is more of it—on its way.

The sun is uncovered and blazing this morning.

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

 

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

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

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

I slightly regretted the new acquisitions.

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

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

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

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

“I’m stranded!”

“Now I’ll have to get in!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rain comes and goes rapidly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to hug him.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hours passed, I didn’t sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was fully well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming back we strolled more slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah summoned me more near.

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

“I will,” I said.

“What would you do?” he pressed.

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

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

 

 

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“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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“And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.”— Rilke

The temperatures have dipped into the negative teens these last few days in Maine. With wet hair, I walked briefly outside this morning and within moments felt my hair stiffen into frozen, wavy strands. I ran my fingers along the rigid tresses, grabbing little sections into my still-warm palm, melting the ice crystals and making it soft again.

Before that I had been sweaty and warm practicing eagle pose in a heated yoga studio. It is a paradoxical posture that requires a twisting of both arms and legs around each other within a balancing framework and somehow has the affect of unwinding the mind. All wound up like that—gazing intently at the striped towel on the mat in front of me and arriving in a steady stance—an unexpected sense of freedom came over me. I wanted to stay right there in that tangled place.

It was as if I had been transported within myself to a precipice, ready to fly.

The roads are dusty with the disintegrating sand and salt leftover from the recent storm. The wind gusts and ribbons of snow are whisked from the drifts and cast thinly through the air—like ghosts. Back windshields of cars are hard to see through this time of year but I glimpse in one the outline of a dog frolicking about. I can see his silhouette jumping—joyful. I wish I could gather him up into my arms in an embrace.

On a dresser in our front hallway there is a stack of feathers that we’ve collected at beaches and in fields, state parks and along dirt roads. I often take them in as I pass by to go upstairs. There is one particular feather that I am most drawn to that was spotted and picked up last summer by my younger son, Adrian. Lagging behind he discovered it and just afterward fell into the mud.

The feather is long with a sturdy quill and distinct black and white markings. When I walk by, I sometimes realign it into its prettiest position.

I noticed it wasn’t on the dresser and asked if anyone had seen it. Adrian said he had been playing with it because it was his and recounted the story of how he had discovered it on his own and then ended up holding it above him in the air, safe from the mud.

I later found it among the copious Legos on the ledge by the fireplace. Our living room is strewn with these genius, rectangular modules that have my children in their grasp. The dining table is covered as well in torn papers and colorful palettes, my own obsession underway. It’s like a storm has blown through our house leaving a slew of multicolored design materials cast about in its wake.

It is an exquisite looking feather—one that might have been used as a quill pen in another era. I wanted to preserve it and saw that Adrian had been running this fingers up and down it creating greater space between the barbs. He liked the feel of it and I tried to imagine how he had managed to take it from the dresser. He must have been high up on his toes or maybe he climbed up on a chair to reach it.

We had never thought to study its markings and learn where it came from. Its size suggested that it belonged to a large bird—perhaps a bird of prey. Adrian’s original guess was that it had belonged to an osprey. We began researching various feathers and initially it seemed like it could have belonged to any of a group of larger birds; osprey, peregrine falcon, eagle or even a turkey.

Upon deeper inspection, we began to recognize the subtleties of its makeup. My older son Jonah insisted quickly that the feather belonged to an eagle based on what he saw. Adrian was more studied in his approach and wanted to take his time with deciding.

I was reminded of my own natural tendency to rely heavily on instinct and inner-knowing as the compass that guides me and also how making space for deeper observation and contemplation has confirmed what I know to be true.

The first time we saw the bald eagle out back it was a barefoot day—vastly different from today’s bitter chill. Jonah spotted it first and called out with elation as it swooped over the tallest pines and we caught intermittent glimpses of the wide wingspan through the branches.

We ran down to the dock—breathless in our excitement—as it swooped majestically through the clear, summer sky over the water. It seemed so near. We could fully make out its yellow beak and the distinctive white feathers of its head. After that we began cutting out the images of bald eagles from magazines and wildlife calendars and adopting them as significant to us.

In the years since, a large nest has appeared in a distant, mighty pine that sits on a point of land that juts out into the water at a diagonal from our dock. I often gaze out to that spot at dawn in meditation.

Though clearly having settled near us, we only rarely get a chance to experience the ravishing display of these stunning beasts. Their presence has grown more common in this area once again, yet their impression remains momentous.

My alarm chimes before the sun has risen. It is still dark out, the bed cozy. I don’t always want to get up. I always do. I pull on my layers and drift down the hallway noticing the moon spreading a glow across the yard, enhanced in these months by the reflection of snow.

Jonah and Adrian’s room is right at the top of the stairway where we still have a baby gate installed. I lock the gate at night as a precaution because of my own experience as a sleepwalking child. I once awakened alone in the garage of my childhood home and fear that Adrian has the same tendency. Once I found him sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes open—but clearly asleep.

Sometimes I open the gate quietly to pass through in these dawn hours. Other times—feeling nimble—I silently climb over it like a robber in wool socks. As I pass by their room and navigate the gate, I am careful not to think of them—especially Adrian. If I do—our hearts so intertwined—they will awaken.

I have roughly one hour before their door will crack open and the stairs will creak and they will sleepily make their way down in their striped pajama bottoms.

I soak in the quiet like an elixir. I allow the parts of me that are not associated with my identity to expand like a vast wave wiping out the various contractions that this world—and I—have placed upon myself.

I nudge judgment out and wrap myself up instead in the tender arms of acceptance.

Their entrance is a signal for the practice to end and the application to begin. In their purity in these peaceful moments, they make it easy. I might forget throughout the day but I always come back to seeing them for what they are in their somnolent innocence.

They approach me in such different ways.

Adrian—the earlier riser—climbs and cuddles into my lap, still half-asleep, pushing my journal away. Despite his desire to keep resting, he can’t help himself and begins talking, peeling his eyes open and blinking away the sleep. He has a distinct smell when he’s just awakened—like cookies. I breathe deeply taking him in and smile at his rapid speech—like his words are running to keep up with his thoughts.

Jonah approaches more quietly and tucks himself in next to me. I take in his cherubic face trying not to break the silence. There is much to be said between us in the quiet.

Often our collective gaze turns outward toward the wall of windowed doors that look out at our tucked away cove revealing a constant state of change. We might comment on what we see—glimpses of color in the morning sky, a glow lining the tops of trees in the distance, a boat or swimmer or clammer.

In the fall we were nested together in this way on the couch when suddenly—like a scene from a nature program— a bald eagle swooped down across the water and dove for an unassuming duck floating on the still water. We all jumped to attention entranced by the unexpected scene. Adrian ran and got his little chair and pulled it up by the glass doors.

Frantic, the duck managed to completely submerge itself and dodge the eagle’s grasp.

The eagle retreated up into the sky for a moment and as soon as the duck reemerged, it dove down again fiercely. It was another near miss for the duck. We watched as the eagle flew back to its nest wondering whether it was lying in wait or had given up.

We sat for a long time in anticipation of the continuation of the saga. We hadn’t chosen sides. We only wanted to see what would happen.

The duck disappeared for a little while and finally we saw it pop up in another spot entirely. The eagle had seen it too—immediately—and came lunging toward it.

Amazingly the duck got away once again and the eagle retreated back up to its nest. We stared out into the bay for another long stretch wondering what might happen next but the drama never did resume.

I was sitting by the fire when Adrian came up behind me and tucked the feather into the back of my ponytail. I reached my hand around to feel it and make sure it was secure. I ran my fingers gently along the barbs.

A little while later, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and noticed it poking out like a simple headdress.

I removed it and placed it on another table—now upstairs— along with a collection of other precious finds—smooth oval stones and large, powder pink ribbed seashells.

I arranged it out in front of the other treasures—in that pretty way again—and headed back downstairs where the rooms are full of so many things yet to be made.

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

It is a bitter cold morning in Maine, so cold that my teeth hurt when I walk outside, boots crunching in the frozen snow. I am thinking about something a friend once said to me on a hot, end-of-summer day. She felt depleted by the season and described her own experience as mirroring the drying and dying roots underground.

In contrast, she gave a vivid description of the dynamic activity beneath a snowy, wintery day—like today—hardy perennials developing and delivering their winding root systems beneath the frosty layers, worms and frogs and gophers establishing their cold-weather getaways.

It was a new awareness for me and I’ve since enjoyed imagining the vibrant, creative world beneath the still, white surface of these colder months. I have always liked to imagine what lies beneath the surface of things.

When I was living in Spain in my last year of college, I came upon a calico cat sleeping on a green, park bench. I took a photograph, appreciating the contrast of colors. I carried the picture around for years but didn’t make a connection until recently that I had later adopted a kitten that grew to look just like the cat in the photo. She’s been with me for nearly eighteen years now and we are in the final days of our long-goodbye.

I’ve moved her bed over by the fire so I can see her and she can feel the warmth radiating from the fire—and me. Her head is drooped over the side of her bed, waiting.

Yesterday I petted her nose—running a single finger along the black triangular marking that has always given her face a striking beauty. I wondered if I will be able to remember the way that feels—her soft fur, her explicit trust in me. I’ve seen how sensations met with presence are preserved longer within the mind—a body memory inscribed more deeply with the aid of heightened attention.

This is the way to recall chubby, silky, baby legs, and the warm hug of a friend. This is the way to remember when you have said that thing that makes them laugh so hard. Recording a life occurs moment by moment by every-single-precious moment. Slowing time in the luscious present allows for the reapplication of the sweet times— like a salve—upon the heartaches of living.

Autumn’s first home was my threadbare, West Village apartment in New York City where a gutted out fireplace served as my closet. She would sit on the windowsill and peer out at the pigeons in the courtyard making chattering sounds in communication. She liked to climb up onto a dresser and stick her head up under a lampshade and take in the light. My sister referred to this as Autumn seeking the light. She was with me there on September 11th when ash covered the street outside my building and she has been with me in every life-changing event ever since.

We’ve had a meeting place twice-a-day for several years now. In the mornings, I sneak downstairs in the dark. I scoop out coffee to brew and sometimes stir up a fire leftover from the night before. Autumn silently rises from her own bed and makes her way into the living room, meeting me on a pillow placed for her on the ottoman in front of the couch.

Before I begin writing or meditating, I lean forward—cross-legged—and bump my head against hers, sometimes lingering, rubbing my forehead back and forth. When I raise my head back up and look at her, she blinks her eyes slowly at me. This has been our ritual.

In the evening, I call out to her in a sing-songy voice, her name becoming two, distinct, higher-pitched syllables. If I happen to see her when I say her name in this way, I can witness her ears perking up and expanding wider—taking in my voice. She always comes to me from wherever she is.

When I do this now—as a test—she remains still, her head down. When she does finally look up at me, her eyes are narrowed and hollowed. Last night, Adrian said, “It is almost like she already died.” I knew just what he meant.

I have stacks and stacks of re-purposed wall-calendars in my studio that I draw on for my work. My hands are always so dry in this season and I am aware of this as I thumb through looking for the colors I need for my latest piece. I’m in search of the hues I use for skin—rose and coral and salmon; blush and cinnamon and umber. Images that are good for this are sand and mountains and azaleas; pottery, sunsets and tile.

With each page I turn, I take in the many notations made within the dated boxes. Some people fill up the spaces within their calendars fully—every appointment, birthday and remarkable event notated. I can almost feel them writing out these reminders, their arm propped against a wall as they lean forward writing, trying to make all of the information fit.

Others are more sparse with what they jot down—only the occasional indication of use can be found. I imagine them gazing at the many beautiful images that appear—Rothko’s rich color choices with bleeding edges, Georgia O’Keefe’s succulent desert displays, Katsushika Hokusai’s great waves.

The transformation of these famous works into other creative expressions has me in its grasp. My studio—though mostly solitary—feels full with the many lives that have at one-time been engaged in the materials I use to create.

I imagine standing near me the growing girl whose first birthday was notated on this calendar, the mother of a friend though gone now is present in this one—her lifetime of notes entrusted to me. My dry fingertips pick up the particles of living that have come so abundantly into my care—like a towering pile of sand. I carefully extract the essence to be transformed into a new life on a fresh page.

I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to say thank you and I want to say see you in another way, at another time. I have inscribed you—and you, and you and you—on the fabric of me, never to be erased and there—carefully, fully notated— to be replayed. Again and again.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” —Unknown

I’ve got myself stationed at the kitchen island—hoody zipped up, a string of felted, fall decorations at my side waiting to be hung, the fire steeped in embers.

From here I can glimpse the tops of their heads bobbing in the yard, kicking a ball high into the air with a friend. I aim to strike a balance between keeping them alive and keeping their soul’s mission intact. It seems they’ll jump off of anything no matter the height—no matter the rusty, slicing edges. They hurdle through my room at night showing me they can.

Their faces flushed red from the cold peer in now asking to venture down to the dock. I leave the back door open to the screen—frigid, sea air bursting in forcing the heat out of the room. I can hear them—the tide is in so I want to be able to hear them. Soon they are back up, dragging an enormous pine branch in the shape of a V across the lawn, gifted from the persistent winds.

His head is tilted back under the faucet, his eyes shut—lips cherry red. I’m holding his neck with one hand and using the other to smooth the water through his hair, gently massaging his head, admiring his slight widow’s peak. The water is warm and makes his hair seem a darker, chocolaty brown. The repetition is soothing him, it is soothing me.

I rinse his hair long after the soap is gone and think about the ripple effect of learning to be present in his hurts—what it has meant for mine. I think about the overlap between seeing and listening. They have so much to say to me! Sometime I really listen to every word trying to follow along and sometimes I just look closely—like at a painting—their faces inscribed in the lining of me.

I’ve been noticing the way their voices echo an earlier time—the cadence, the selection of the word evening instead of night, the head tilt in delivery all exactly the same as when they were two and four, even as maturity washes over them. I soak in their newness even as they grow and grow.

There is such simple, exquisite beauty to be witnessed in the human encounter—every gesture a verse, each expression a lifeline to be grasped onto and pulled more near. Life’s most precious gifts can be discovered in the seeing and in the wanting to know. Found in the pausing and seeking to hear. Let presence be an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness. Let seeing extinguish the smoking, contagion of distraction.

I close my eyes when I take in your story over coffee—in the gutted warehouse—listening for any wisdom I might draw from the backdrop of me and impart onto you. I would cast a spell to drive out the unjustness if I could.

 I’ve taped up the card you made for me—imagining what it meant to write the words of a poem in the outline of a bird. The emotion in your eyes—not lost on me.

 At dinner I pretend that we have never met and ask about your dreams. I want to know this part of you, “she wants to dream with you.”

You wait for me by my car just to check in and make sure I am ok. I invite you to dinner once more. The boys are waiting in the car.

You confide how hard it has been—no end in sight. I say what I can about a grief I haven’t known and despite my stumbling way you keep sharing with me.

When I look into your eyes, something lights up inside of me. We might say nothing—or everything—depending on the day.

It’s evening now. They are gathered closely around me near the chair I am sitting in—a fire brightens the space around us like a stage. Jonah is describing a play he saw at school—acting out a scene in which a character in battle is overcome with a sword. He uses a long knife from his ninja costume to demonstrate, falling to the ground dramatically.

I ask him which part he would have liked to play. I assume the upper-grades had performed the show recently for the younger children and I hadn’t heard about it.

He clarifies that it was a production he saw two years ago.

I marvel at the way the story has lived in him as he goes on to recite a funny scene in which one of the British soldiers who received a letter from The French claims that he recognizes the word “chicken” written in French. To the delight of the audience, he interjects the word wherever he can despite the insistence from the French speaking soldiers that the word is never mentioned.

He goes on to describe the part he would like to have played. It was another soldier who stood very straight and tall—he shows me, tucking in his chin —guarding a bridge. He was instructed to destroy the bridge when he saw the enemy approaching. With perfect comic timing the soldier—and Jonah—responds, “after we’ve crossed it, right?” He grins like a professional, nearly winking. It would have been the perfect part for him. I tell him so.

Standing next to my chair, Adrian’s got his arm wrapped around mine as we have been taking in Jonah’s performance together. For some reason he’s got a coin in his hand and he’s rhythmically rubbing it against one of my two bracelets. It’s almost as if he is strumming a guitar. I turn to him and we’re both listening now to the very slight sound that he’s been making and I say, “you know this bracelet is actually made from a guitar string.”

He looks back at me smiling, strumming away without saying a word.

It really was a bracelet made from the sting of a guitar. I imagine all of the things that had to come together in order for him to find a way to play a little tune right there on my wrist.

 

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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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“There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.” —Thomas Jefferson

It is so quiet in here. Quiet like when a house full of visitors have just gone. Quiet like sleep after a sandy day leaping over waves in the ocean. I could hear a pin drop, quiet. It is only the two little tadpoles who have gone, though. Off to squeal and inquire, climb and test boundaries under other roofs, beneath another part of the sky. September in Maine usually feels so yellow—sunshiny and glowing with warmth. But this first day of school is grey and damp. The evening temperatures seem be to be getting cooler more quickly than in years past. Noticing the entrance of a season has become a past time of mine. I could never have known this would interest me so. This morning the leaves on our sprawling oak out back are stirring—a very slight breeze bringing them to a subtle simmer that has gone on since dawn. I am sitting in the quiet and I am noticing the contrast of this day with those long and boisterous days of summer. I can almost hear the tug and click of the door shutting closed on this salty season.

I had not intended to grow so silent on the page as I did in these warm months. I hadn’t planned to put other things first. It just happened. It happened in the same way that I didn’t plan to be writing today—but I am. Our summer was full. Full like a basket overflowing with a garden’s harvest, full like a storm cloud ready to burst, full like a car en-route for a camping trip, full like a mother’s embrace. I made many scribbles in journals instead, a sketch of my cat and found a story to tell in the black-and-white photos I took of my boys going about their summer jobs of touching and smelling and tipping-over and digging and gobbling and climbing and hanging and balancing and talking and laughing and crying and wailing and caressing and saving and destroying and repairing and competing and loving and making mischief and making gifts. I took them in closely. I took them in from afar.

In August we had fewer plans—no camps and little travel. I was craving the lazy days of summer for boredom and the ingenuity that follows to kick in for Jonah and Adrian. On one of these such days, I agreed to play kickball in our front yard. It is not my favorite of activities, but my boys love anything that involves a ball and meeting them in this matters to me. They are remarkable in their ability to create a “ghost team” and keep track of who is where and mostly—although on opposite teams—remain in agreement about what has happened. I am just along for the ride. We were in the midst of a game such as this and I was running to try to tag Jonah on third base when suddenly his attention went beyond the yard and into our driveway. He stopped running and pointed to something he saw in the driveway and said, “a mouse!” I looked over and together the three of us began walking toward a smallish mouse lying down and moving its body from side to side—it was clearly struggling. It was white and soft-looking and quickly loosing life force. It was dying right before our eyes.

I have never particularly cared for mice and once even had to spend the night with a friend when I discovered that there was a mouse dwelling in my apartment in New York City. But living in Maine and raising children I have come to see these innocent creatures as just as valuable as any other I might come across. I knew this moment was important. Jonah and Adrian wanted to help the mouse and so did I. I wasn’t sure what to do. I am lucky that my 7 year old son did. Jonah suggested that I go and get my gardening gloves so that we could pick up the mouse who was still moving slightly and move him off of the hot pavement. I ran and got my gloves. Jonah took them from me and put them on. In this time it was clear that the mouse had died. I watched on as Jonah so gingerly moved the little, still creature back and forth so that he could get him into the palm of his hand. We decided to move him over to a wooded area. We acknowledged that he had died. Jonah placed him under some bushes and then moved him back a little, hiding him behind some branches and leaves. We wondered about what had happened to him and how he had just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Later we theorized that perhaps he had been dropped by a bird flying overhead—we have two bald eagles, osprey and many seagulls living in our midst. But just then we sat with this strange and seemingly important happening and all of our feelings about it on an end of summer day.

 

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“Each color lives by its mysterious life.” —Kandinsky

It’s early and silent—three tender souls under one roof still are checked into another realm of slumber and dreams. I’m lying on a bench in our living room, gazing up at the tops of trees just coming into the light. The temperature is still very low from the night and there is a slight breeze that has begun to awaken the highest of branches—first so gently and then with an occasional gust bringing all of the branches together rising up in a momentary dance with the air. These few brief moments of noticing stir in me many aspects of my being—raising dust and moving around the parts of me stuck in the dark corners, bringing those facets back into the fold. Even from the other side of the glass where I am warm and removed I can sense the aliveness of the trees. I am wondering if I were living in a city still whether the sound of subway wheels clanking—multitudes of intricate faces passing me by—would move me the same. We are all made up of stardust, they say—even the trees, even the subway cars. We are all just orbiting around each other—each of us composed of this same magical dust. We brush by each other—at times like silk, a gentle caress. Other passages are abrasive—like brick on brick. I wonder what we will remember—what will remain—of these passings by.

Orange—I’ve decided—is the color of the soothing of souls. It is the color of warmth and comfort, of holding and forgiving. It is the color of new-beginnings—like green can be. Orange was Adrian’s 3rd-year favorite color, behind red and “lellow.” It’s funny, I’ve never before been drawn to the color orange like I am in this season. Now, I take it in with my eyes—with my whole body—like an elixir, soaking it up in the setting sun, in the images I work with, in the ember glow of a wood stove fire on an icy cold day. Our walls are grey, but—orange—orange is present when we come back into our home in the afternoons. It’s in our play. I feel orange in the preparation of a hot meal and the endless coloring, puzzle making and reading of books. Orange is Adrian licking the peanut butter and jelly off of his bread as I look on. It’s Jonah telling me a very long story at bedtime in a whisper—his voice still high and lilted—giggling out into the night air. Orange is cradling my heart—making it hardy—as I sift through old ways winnowing out what is worth keeping and discovering what must go.

My newly 7 year old son Jonah, who’s favorite color is blue—though and through—has decided that he would like to be a zookeeper when he gets bigger—a rescuer of animals hurt in the wild. He has elaborate plans for how his facility will be and prefers not to speak of any other options for his future so as to prevent distraction from his single-minded focus. He is seeking as much information about animals as he can get his hands on. I imagine a circle drawn around him—filled in with all that he is dreaming of. I see the circle as moveable and expansive—breathing—as his world grows larger and larger. For a long time, it was decided that Adrian—nearly 5 now—would also be a zookeeper with Jonah. I was surprised recently when he shared that he was going to be an artist instead. First he’d asked, “can you be just an artist?” I told him you could. There was a time in which I thought that I needed to decide between being an artist and being a writer. There was a time in which I thought that I needed to decide about who I would be.

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“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred.  I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I awoke one special morning it was still black outside. Silently I rolled out of bed, pulling on a pair of scratchy, woolen socks and a cozy sweater. My littlest boy Adrian — still an early riser — urged me to greet the day while the rest of the house laid in quiet slumber. His voice called out to me through the monitor by my bedside — religiously attended for nearly two years now. Together we traipsed down stairs, eventually brewing coffee and greeting our kitty Autumn with a rub between her ears. Finally we came to the shade opening part of our morning ritual and through our front window we glimpsed a shimmering, white coating gracing our porch steps. Snow. My heart lightened. For me — a little girl still at heart — snow is a magical offering from nature. I turned on the outside light so that Adrian might better see. His eyes brightened at the sight, a sweet smile coming across his face. He’s taken to squinting his eyes when he smiles. Does he think he needs to be even sweeter than he already is? Our forecast had been for rain and so this crisp, white frosting was a treat. It came in gracefully for us, not like for those still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. For those souls, I wished for warmth. I wished for dryness.

About an hour later, well caffeinated now, I heard Jonah, my bigger boy, calling to me from upstairs. He had made his way to our bed in the night and so he was all wrapped up in a too big comforter in a too big bed, his voice still groggy from a deep sleep. I liked the way his body looked so little that way in our oversized bed. It helped keep him small, young, in my mind. I’ve been mourning his grown up words, his grown up ideas, of late. I climbed in with him whispering that it had snowed. There was a slight pause and then he popped up in the bed, a contrast to his former sleepy self. His wide, strikingly blue eyes scanned the various windows in our bedroom overlooking a wintery scene. He wanted to go out and play right now! Within moments I had granted him permission to go outside as soon as we had eaten breakfast. I did this despite the fact that I have a book proposal due in less than a month, not a word written, and that morning was one of few that I would be able to get started. I did this also fully aware that it would be impossible to allow just one brother to depart on this great adventure, leaving my littler one behind.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I could dress Jonah for the weather. He was eager, therefore cooperative. Adrian was a little more challenging. He stepped into his snow pants without coaxing. The coat had to be negotiated though and then the poor fellow had to stand in his seven layers at the front door sweating as I ran through the house trying to find the appropriate clothing to keep me toasty for what was sure to be a lengthy excursion. Children rarely notice their purple lips in the way that we adults do. I nearly slid down the stairs a couple of times in my haste. I discovered a pair of old ski pants and a coat that I had to step into with its broken zipper. There, ready. Adrian and I bounded outside and found Jonah already halfway through the shoveling of our steps. He is most happy when given a job. I sunk into our play forgetting about my plans for the morning. I became much more interested in the giant carrot we had chosen for our snowman’s nose, and how we might plant it deeply enough into his frosty face so that it might stay. A babysitter was supposed to be arriving and on some level I knew that she would cancel.  Adrian dug in the snow with a small sand shovel and every now and then he would call out to me from just a few feet away, “alk.” I would go over to him and help him to “walk” to a new spot. He was still acclimating to this novelty of snow. Jonah toyed with his first real snow-ball fight. He knows generally that we don’t throw things at people and so he experimented with how it was ok now. I threw a snowball at him and accidentally hit him directly in his mouth! We both managed to laugh and I rushed to clean his face and make sure none of the snow went down the front of his jacket. I remembered that feeling. Snow somehow making its way into my winter jacket, down my turtleneck. I didn’t want for him to feel that.When we came inside I saw on my phone that our babysitter had cancelled. I was relieved. It was a good and cozy day for staying in.

It was a day full of reading and relaxing together. It was a day full of play. A snow day as I remember them. At one point we turned on some music and we were taking turns putting on dance shows for each other. My “smart” phone was on the coffee table and Jonah picked it up. He wanted to look at pictures. I am that person that Mac store employees loathe for keeping every photo and video I’ve ever taken on my phone and wondering why my phone is protesting.  Jonah and Adrian giggled at a video of Adrian at five or six months old — he still glowed with that other-worldly quality of new babies. I felt a slight lump form in my throat. Oh how beautiful that time had been. We sat for a while, the three of us, looking back on our lives together. I wished I had a picture of us growing so cozy now on the couch. Eventually, Jonah managed to find his way to a video taken of him when he was just two years old. It was nearly two years ago but I remember the moment distinctly. It was July and Jonah and my husband were mopping our deck, ridding it of pollen and muck. Jonah appeared to be in charge and was demonstrating his love of a job even then. There was something about the quality of that video and of Jonah captured in that moment that said to me so clearly, it shouted to me, “you can’t go back.” You can never go back. There with my two boys cuddled on either side of me, I choked back a deep sob.

On days like today, challenging days, days where I have a cold, where I have been up since 4:30 am and feel like all of my words have fallen on deaf ears, I think of that moment. I remember that joyful day. How days can be. I remember that even these hard days, these very days of breathing deeply to maintain my presence, are ones that I might wish that I could go back to. And so I nurse my cough, fuel my soul with words and know that these are precious times.

 

“This too shall pass.” – Ancient Proverb

Yesterday it was a hurricane morning here in Coastal Southern Maine. The water was moving faster than usual and a strong wind was creating a shower of yellow leaves along the coastline. Out front it seemed almost balmy with a light fog peeking through the branches of our towering pines. Knowing we were not likely to be in for a direct hit made our preparations casual. Friends in harms way were on our minds.  Little Adrian was tucked in for a morning nap and young Jonah had gone to nursery school in his yellow rain pants. Before leaving, my two boys embraced in a goodbye hug. It was unprompted and so new for them. “Ug Oda,” said Adrian. (translation: “Hug, Jonah”) They put their little arms around each other in the sweetest embrace, Jonah with his crinkling rain gear, hood already in place. Adrian with his navy, mock turtleneck fully soiled from breakfast.

As Adrian slept, I remembered when Jonah had first discovered his voice. He was around 18 months old. I’m not fond of the term, but when he reached this age I remember thinking, “oh, the Terrible 2’s begin early in this house!” It wasn’t so bad, really. My biggest challenge was that Jonah didn’t like to get into his car seat. Oh, how we struggled. He arching his back like a yogi mastering backbend pose, me near tears not wanting to hurt him but needing to leave the house every now and then. I remember wondering if this was how things were going to proceed. It’s hard to know as a new mother. I sort of knew about the phrase “this to shall pass,” but I didn’t count on it like I do now. Adrian is in a similar time in his life now, grinning coyly as he tests out his ability to affirm the negative, “no!” in as many scenarios as possible. He too puts up a noble fight when it comes to being strapped into his car seat. We are a free spirited lot. I have never wondered, though, with Adrian if this is how things were going to be in that oh-so-final way.

Last weekend our family meandered down a wooded path together picking up pebbles and nibbling cookies. We were making our way to a beach, one rich with seaweed and salty air. Every now and then, as we strolled, the wind would gust a shower of leaves into the air. Having recently been told about catching leaves and making wishes, we decided to give it a try. And so our walk became injected with a series of leaps – my husband especially intent on capturing the falling foliage. On my leaf – a muted orange one – I wished for the feelings of these precious moments together to continue on forever. I wished that I could capture the contentment I felt inside in that very moment and bottle it for future use. I knew that they wouldn’t and I knew that I couldn’t. I knew there would be scuffles later on about dinner needing to be different, more tasty, about another weekend gone by with chores not completed – as if this were a bad thing! And that was ok.

I remember visiting a Zen Monk who made his home in a cozy, wooded spot in rural Virginia. He is the father of a first love of mine and I believe he offered me in our visits an introductory course in mindfulness. Upon entering his home an air of reverence always came over me. With his pace, he slowed mine. Often it was dinnertime when we would arrive and our first interactions would take place over a quiet, nourishing meal, prepared and presented with great care. I remember eating so slowly, so mindfully, that I truly tasted my food – maybe for the first time in my life. On one visit my then-boyfriend and I were complaining about the weather or some other minor inconvenience. Upon hearing us, our host clapped his hands together loudly and with great force. “Things change.” he said. I have thought of this moment so many times in my life throughout the various storms that I have weathered – always a little voice quietly whispering in my ear, “things change.” I don’t always live out my belief in this aphorism but I know that it is true. Both the good and the seemingly not so good moments in our lives are always fleeting.

Today is the day after a hurricane touched our lives. We are among the fortunate ones who only experienced high winds, heavy rain. There is a carpet of leaves blanketing our lawn so beautifully. This is so today.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

My now 19-month old son Adrian does not like it when I wear socks. He doesn’t know yet that through my open bedroom windows, crisp sea air escorts me into a deeper sleep at night and that the now chillier Maine mornings leave my toes a little less than toasty. I pull my socks on at the break of dawn when he awakens, thinking of my morning brew. But he won’t have it, this sock wearing business. He points at my feet and says, “no” with his best staccato. Coming off of a summer filled with trips to the beach and barefooted meanderings in our yard, he’s come to like my toes, I suppose. Long and finger-like, calloused on the ends, they are definitely not my best feature. I remember a similar phenomenon with my older son Jonah when he was about the same age. His issue was with my wearing sweaters, though, and his word was, “off!”

I follow the commands of my children, knowing that these particular preferences will pass and that eventually I will be embarrassing them in their teenage years with my leg-warmers and other various out-of-date pieces in my wardrobe. I also recognize that my insistence in these moments could result in a real panic for my little ones. They feel cozier when Mama looks as she should. I save my insistence for denying the Popsicle request at breakfast, for protecting Adrian from his palpable desire to jump off of high things in the same way that his three-year-old brother does. I save my insistence for the mandatory hand-holding in parking lots and for confiscating toys being used as armament. In these moments of communicating firm boundaries with my children – and keeping them safe – I have witnessed each of them have what might be referred to as a “tantrum.” I’m not a fan of that term and as I’ve grown as a mother, I’ve come to see these episodes in such a different light. What used to invoke in me a sense of either failure as a parent or failure in my child to control their emotions, now elicits in me a great deal of love and compassion. Instead of trying to keep my children from feeling what they are feeling, I am now more inclined to bring myself to a place of peace and centeredness so that I may help them through these very big emotions that are overcoming them. I now see that for them, the Popsicle, the independence they are so eager for, these things are every bit as valid as any moment of panic or desire or need that I may experience as an adult.

I am reminded of a visit I recently made to an imaging center where I had an MRI of my lumbar spine. I’d been putting off this test for months and months and finally when I arrived at the center, the technician discovered that my paperwork had been wrongly pushed-forward. There were questions as to whether this test was safe for me, given my medical background. I ended up sitting in the waiting room for three hours as the staff called past doctors and conducted research on my behalf. I had come to the appointment well fed but as the hours rolled by the room began to spin. I ran out and scarfed down some fast food. It was all that I could find with just a few minutes now before my appointment. Greasy fries compounded my discomfort and my heart began to race as I realized that I was going to be late returning to my boys even though I had planned for a four-hour window of childcare.

A woman with a warm smile came and escorted me onto the table just outside the MRI machine. My throat seemed in someone’s grasp. A second woman entered the room and they were both chatting with me so kindly and preparing me for the test and then rolling me into the machine. One of them asked me how I was feeling. Inside I was panicking. My heart was racing. Air was elusive. I was reprimanding myself, too. I had waited so long. I couldn’t leave now. Where was my mindfulness? And where had it been lately, anyway? I was not kind to myself in those moments.

I then replied to their question quietly, timidly. “I feel a little stressed,” I said. They couldn’t have possibly pulled me out of that machine more quickly. All hands were on deck. Can we get you a cool cloth? Would earplugs help you? How about some music? I felt their warmth, their love, really, envelope me. Two little, warm tears sprang to the corners of each of my eyes. Upon seeing my tears, they mistakenly thought I was afraid of the machine and went to reassuring me of its safety. I explained that I was just feeling overwhelmed from the morning, but really I think the tears were sort of tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of thanksgiving that there are people in this world who will care for and love a perfect stranger. It wasn’t because it was their job. It wasn’t because they were worried about messing up the test. It was who they were.

After that I felt completely relieved. Their capacity to see me in that moment allowed me to see myself and come back to who I know I am – someone who can easily withstand a little discomfort or even transform it into a positive experience. Someone who can see the discomfort of my children and help them to transform it as well. One of the women suggested I wear a pair of glasses with a mirror situated so that you could peer out of the machine while you were still in it and feel as if you were not enclosed. It was these glasses that I turned to on the one occasion during the MRI that I began to feel anxious again. Otherwise, I spent my time in that tube feeling grateful, feeling loved, and really learning in a very deep and profound way about the power of a caring gesture. I thought about my sons and vowed to strengthen my commitment to bringing this same love to their moments of panic. To their “tantrums.”  I vowed to love them even more deeply, even more completely than I already was.

 

 

 

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

My son Jonah began taking swimming lessons alone for the first time this summer. It has been so exciting to see him at a distance, his little head just-barely bobbing above the water, a mixed expression of joy and anticipation crossing his face. He is very social, chatting gregariously with the other children in his class, testing out the echo of his voice across the massive aquatic center. I am so proud of the way he follows the instructions of his teacher and I observe her closely, looking for pointers. I too feel a mix of joy and anticipation. Joy for all that Jonah is on the cusp of discovering in his new life as a budding pre-schooler. Anticipation for the letting go that will come along with it for me. I bob in the shallow end of the pool with my younger son Adrian. He loves the water too and seems to want to dive out of my arms. I can still see Jonah, so clearly, on his very first day of life. And yet, now, Adrian, born two years later, is ready to swim already? Tears come to my eyes with a mix of emotions. I think about how the days are long but the years are short, as they say.

Later, the three of us go to the family changing room and my two boys take their first shower alone together. It is one of the most precious moments of the summer for me, their two unclothed bodies shivering slightly at first and then slowly steadying as the water warms. I notice that they have their own language between them now. Jonah enjoys his role washing off his baby brother with a hand-held sprayer. Adrian is in a state of pure pleasure, laughing wildly and acclimating to this novelty that is a shower. I can only imagine the cacophony of laughter and shouting that can be heard on the other side of the door.  I dry and dress them both with surprising ease – given the environment – and as we are driving home I give thanks that everyone is clean and ready for bed, all cozy in their car seats, busy with their snacks. I give thanks that I am able to derive so much pleasure from observing my children in such a mundane task as showering and getting changed after swimming lessons.

As the mother of these two little ones, I almost never sit in meditation. Instead I discover an inner silence in the space between filling sippy-cups and cleaning up crumbs. I focus on tiny fingers placing magnets on the refrigerator and the varied expressions of my children’s faces. I often listen to their words with peaked attention noticing the hairs on my arms rising up with this heightened awareness. The opportunity for bliss in a mother’s life is vast; we only need to truly see what is before us in order to experience it.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” – Audrey Hepburn

When I was a young girl my grandmother took great pride in teaching me to set a proper table. She knew just how to place things and she was very proud of the vast collection of treasures she’d accumulated over years of military and personal travels in faraway places. There were bowls from Saigon, plates from Paris and linens from Thailand. Her home was crisp and clean, with hospital corners on the bed and the smell of gardenias wafting from her dressing table. It was gritty too, at times, after an afternoon of boating on the Potomac, catching crabs off a dock just a stone’s throw away from her home. My grandmother was devoted to gardening and homemaking and her lifelong love of entertaining culminated with a lucrative, late-in-life real estate career. I remember my cousin once comparing me to her. I took it as a high complement. I hope that my home is a fraction as lovely as hers was and that I may share with my children the importance of creating beauty like she did. She had a way of honoring the things that she was blessed with.

I remember when she died reflecting on all of her beautiful things, some of which would come into my care. I saw so clearly and was moved deeply by the fact that not a single exquisite item that she had so adored would be traveling with her. Even in her last years, I remember, as she downsized from her home to an assisted living and then eventually to a nursing home, fewer and fewer of her treasures surrounded her. She valued people and relationships far more than any of those objects, and in her final days I came to see her so much more for her true essence, for all that she was despite her belongings and what might be surrounding her. My grandmother had studied “new thought” through the Science of Mind Magazine series for years and years and in her final room in her nursing home she had kept with her, of all the many, many belongings she had to choose from, her collection of books by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Each day I know that I have a choice as to how I spend time with my children. It is so tempting in this culture to spend that time out gathering more things, toys, clothes, furniture, you name it. When I find myself with plans to do such gathering, I often end up changing my plans. I sit quietly and observe my boys at play. I truly see them. I see the way they delicately examine a toy. I see the movement of their legs as they run wildly. I feel so deeply within me how little the clothes I wear, the things I own, matter to me. What matters to me are the experiences I share with my family. These moments. These connections. These are eternal.