our America

UnknownLet us cultivate a culture of kindness. In that moment, we are determining the outcome of the world.
~ Sakyong Mipham

I know I’m not the only one finding it impossible this summer to make sense of world events. I suspect you, too, are mourning the senseless deaths of innocent people at home and abroad, looking in vain after each new round of violence for answers to the seemingly unanswerable question “why?”, and trying to cultivate an informed, thoughtful attitude toward our presidential candidates.

Perhaps, like me, you assign yourself articles to read written by journalists from the left and the right, writers and reporters who do their homework, who think deeply about where we stand as a country and who choose their words with care. Perhaps you, too, are struggling to keep your heart open to all people, to opinions that conflict with your own, to the concerns and worries of friends and family members who see things differently. Sometimes very, very differently.

It’s not easy being a good citizen these days. In the past couple of weeks two of my friends have confessed to blocking or defriending those whose political postings on social media cause them angst. Others have expressed a desire for Facebook to remain a place where we can enjoy browsing photos of our friends’ children and pets and vacations, without being confronted with their opinions, especially when they conflict with our own.

I have recently deleted political comments from my own Facebook page, remarks that were disrespectful, rude, or insulting — not to me, but to others. To do so causes me pain, for I value a free flow of ideas and information as much as anyone. But then, name-calling and personal insults don’t fall into that category.  I believe there’s a difference between conversation, which demands empathy and a willingness to listen with an open mind; and invective, which is about hearts and  minds that have been willfully shut down.

I don’t have to tell you: there are many loud, belligerent voices out there, all straining to be heard. Turn on the TV or radio, scan your news feed, scroll through Twitter, and you will find them. Voices full of accusation and suspicion, hatred and superiority, disdain and incivility. Voices eager to label and vilify. Voices that separate us from one another, that seem bent on dividing souls rather than uniting them. Voices quick to judge, voices meant to instill fear, voices that incite distrust or even violence. There are voices that condone cruelty, voices raised in self-righteous fury, voices that disregard quiet, unassailable truth in favor of suspicion and innuendo and outright lies. There are voices that speak the language of the F-bomb, the bully, the oppressor. And, alas, there seem to be very few voices asking simple questions of the heart, such as, “Tell me why you feel this way?” It’s a bleak and painful chorus, the kind of dysfunctional acting out we would never tolerate in our own homes or in our own families.

And yet somehow we’ve allowed this disgraceful shouting match to become our national dialogue. [continue…]

a bouquet of peonies

IMG_9236I can’t tear myself away from home these days, nor am I getting much of anything done around here. The peonies are in bloom. And I don’t want to miss a moment of their brief, luxuriant season. Most mornings I’m in the garden within minutes of waking, to pay my quiet respects to the outrageously generous display going outside our door . At dusk I wander, scissors in hand, cutting fragrant armfuls to carry inside. For this week only, there are peony bouquets everywhere. Every vase and jar I own is full, the air is thick with the sweet, subtle scent, and still they come, a succession of blooms. I cherish every one.

IMG_9162If you were to drop by my house for a cup of tea and a chat this afternoon, I’d send you home with peonies.

IMG_9231But as it happens, I’m here alone on this June day, typing at my little table on the porch. There’s no need, and no room, for yet another bouquet in the house. And so I offer you, instead, a bouquet in words and photos. Here are my dear peonies and some lines – from poets and gardeners and ancient Chinese haiku artists — that pay them homage. Inhale deeply. Peony season, like life itself, is precious, fleeting. [continue…]

happy reports

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The other morning, I snapped the leash onto Tess’s collar and headed out for a walk. We followed our old route, down the hill from our house, onto the bike path toward town, and home again. Nothing too ambitious, yet this was the first time in two years I’ve taken this particular four-mile walk without feeling pain. It was also the first time since having both of my hips replaced last winter that I felt confident enough in my new hardware, and in my healing, to risk having Tess lunge unexpectedly or pull me off balance. I’m strong enough now to hold onto her, strong enough to hike back up the hill without pausing to catch my breath, strong enough to do the whole loop in under an hour. And so it is that a daily ritual I once took for granted has been transformed into an experience that feels special, one I’m grateful for.

IMG_8921So much of what I’ve struggled with, and written about, over the last couple of years has had to do with loss and grief, what Jack Kornfield so evocatively calls “the storm clouds of the heart.” Sitting alone in a quiet room, finding words that both pay homage to the richness of human experience while also acknowledging how vulnerable I often feel in the face of that experience, has given me a way to come to terms with some of the inevitable challenges of growing older — the illnesses and deaths of dear friends, concern for the struggles of a young adult son, life chapters ending, intimate relationships transforming, elderly parents facing their mortality, a body that’s showing the wear and tear of nearly six decades of hard use.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether “ordinary days” would ever return. Or if in fact the best days were behind me now and my own “ordinary” would forever more be tinged with sadness, a kind of constant, chronic, low-grade grief, like the slight limp I’m learning to live with as result of having one leg that ended up being an eighth of an inch longer than the other.

The answer, it turns out, is no. [continue…]

downsizing, 10 things my mom taught me
& a Mother’s Day offer

IMG_8557In a few weeks my parents will say good-bye to the antique red house surrounded by woods and fields that has meant “home” to our family for nearly forty-five years. At eighty and seventy-nine, my folks could have chosen assisted living or even a simple condo for this next chapter of their lives. Instead, in good health and always game for a project, they’ve built themselves a small, fully accessible cottage on a pond just eight minutes from where my husband and I live now. Still, this move calls for a major downsizing. And as anyone who’s helped an elderly parent move knows all too well, letting go can be tricky emotional territory, for both generations.IMG_0433

Our old family homestead is a charming Cape built in 1765, with many original details intact but enhanced by a spacious later addition, designed by my parents and complete with a porch, master suite, spa, and a generous living room. Filled with the antiques and special pieces my mom collected over the decades, each nook and cranny of the house is cozy and welcoming and uniquely beautiful. My mother’s special touch is in evidence at every turn – a collection of birds’ nests displayed on an old glass table, a row of white ironstone pitchers on the mantle, a small, antique oil painting propped amongst the gardening books, a wicker chair in a sunny corner.

The new, small cottage has a different feel altogether – spare and clean and open, with white walls and simple, modern lines. A few of my parents’ favorite things are making the move with them. Most of their furnishings and possessions, however, either won’t fit or just don’t “go” in their new, downsized quarters.

IMG_8581Months ago, at my parents’ request, my brother and I did a walk-through of our childhood home, looking for things we might want for our own houses, taking measurements and promising my parents we’d get back to them with our lists. I don’t know about my brother and his wife, but Steve and I found it hard to return to our own fully furnished house and see places where a mahogany table or an old pine bookcase might fit. I stuck my list of “possibles” in a file folder and let it sit there.

Now, though, the time of reckoning has arrived. [continue…]

expectations

IMG_8239Before we can change anything in our life, we have to recognize that this is the way it is meant to be right now. For me, acceptance has become what I call the long sigh of the soul. It’s the closed eyes in prayer, perhaps even the quiet tears. It’s “all right,” as in “All right, You lead, I’ll follow.” And it’s “all right” as in “Everything is going to turn out all right.” This is simply part of the journey.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance

I was pretty confident I would be a kind of poster child for hip replacement recovery. I’m relatively young, not overweight, in decent shape for someone who’s been slowed down by advancing osteoarthritis for two years. In all that time, despite encroaching pain, I did my best to keep exercising. I continued my daily yoga practice, albeit a modified practice using blocks and a chair and bolsters. I waited a full year to see a highly recommended surgeon at one of the country’s best orthopedic hospitals. I scheduled my surgeries for 6 weeks apart at the end of 2105, so I could begin the new year with two new hips.

And I figured that if I followed instructions to the letter, did my physical therapy religiously, and didn’t push too far or too fast, I’d soon resume my old, normal life. Some people had warned, “This is major surgery.” But others said, “It’s no big deal.” Those were the ones I chose to believe. I was nervous, of course. But this had already been a long road. (I wrote about that here.) And within a few days of my second surgery, I had myself convinced I would negotiate this little patch of rough ground easily and soon be back on course with my life.

Yes, that’s called an “expectation.” And you’d think I’d know by now that getting attached to an expectation is a good recipe for disappointment. [continue…]