A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.
I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory. (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)
At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world. Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling. Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.
But I think he’d agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training. In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy. Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing. I couldn’t be prouder of him.
And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call. “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said. “I do,” he replied. “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]
We need to recover an oasis of silence within the rhyme and reason of our active life, for it is in the silence that we meet the face of God. ~ Max Picard
It is still dark as I type these words. The sliding doors of the guest room at my parents’ house in Florida are open to warm night air, the rolling sounds of distant traffic, the first low laments of mourning doves. For the last week my mom and I have been alone here together. Our plan when we arrived was to spend these precious days taking walks, reading our books (I ambitiously mailed myself a whole box from home), exercising, making healthful meals and enjoying each other’s company.
We’ve done some of that. But in all honesty, we’ve been distracted from our modest intentions. The drama playing out in Washington has overshadowed too many waking hours. Instead of immersing myself in the novels on the bedside table, I succumb to the pull of three or four different newspapers and magazines on line.
In years past, my mom and I would spread craft supplies out on the table and create home-made cards and tiny hand-sewn books with leather covers. This year, we’ve been sharing articles and posts from our Facebook and Twitter news feeds. And watching Colbert and Saturday Night Live clips. And making phone calls to senators and representatives. And signing petitions. And donating money. (And, as I mentioned here last week, not sleeping all that well.)
A few minutes ago, when I switched on the bedroom light and reached for my laptop, this quote about silence was the first thing I saw. It arrived at the top of an invitation to a contemplative retreat. The words leapt out — an oasis of silence. I wanted to sign up immediately.
It is still dark, not yet five, too early to be awake. But here I am, eyes wide open. It’s a new habit, this four a.m. restlessness blossoming into a low-grade anxiety that makes going back to sleep impossible. But this morning, oddly, it’s a question that nudges me to consciousness:
How is your heart today?
I lie in bed for a while, taking stock. How is my heart? There’s no easy answer. And so I try to remember, instead, where I first heard or read these provocative, tender words. In a book? A conversation? A blog post?
More curious now than sleepy, I turn on the light, reach for my glasses and phone, and Google the words “How is your heart today?” [continue…]
When I began writing here in 2009, I was feeling my way. I did not have a Facebook page or a Twitter account or a smartphone and, for a private person like me, the idea of creating personal content to post online was somewhat terrifying. My earliest blog posts were done at the request of my New York publisher, to help create a social media presence that might result in a few additional sales for the memoir I’d just written about being the mother of teenagers. Although the word “platform” wasn’t part of my lexicon, my twenty-six-year-old publicist told me I needed one. And so, with the help of my then college-age son Henry, this website was born. I had no real plan, other than to write about whatever gifts and challenges my own daily life handed me and to see how things went.
One thing I was pretty certain about was that I wouldn’t delve into either religion or politics in public. For one thing, my intention at the time was to build a community of readers – and there’s no better way to lose a friend or a fan than to stir up the waters of dissent and disagreement on divisive topics such as God and elected officials. [continue…]
My mom, who is eighty, gets up in the dark every morning. She likes to sit near the window in her living room, mug of tea in hand, and watch the sun come up across the pond. “I don’t know how many sunrises I have left,” she said to me recently. “And I don’t want to miss a single one.”
I may be twenty-two years younger than she is, but I feel exactly the same way. Over here on my side of town I’m up, too, watching the day begin. Sometimes my mom sends me a photo of her sunrise, and I respond with a photo of mine. You might think that after ten years of living in this house with its southeasterly view of mountains and sunrises, I’d take the dawn for granted. In fact, the opposite is true. What my husband and I have learned from rising early enough to observe the beginnings of hundreds of days here is that no two sunrises are alike. Of course I could sleep through the quiet drama, or lose myself in the morning headlines or my Facebook news feed, or go about my business of getting breakfast ready and coffee made. The day arrives, after all, whether I’m bearing witness to it or not.
But still, morning after morning, I stand in the kitchen or, often enough out in the yard in my slippers, and take note of the changing light. It’s only a moment or two, a moment carved out of time and devoted simply to pausing and being and seeing. And every morning, almost without fail, my own heart lifts with the sun – for so begins another day on the planet, another day of being here, another day of striving to do a better job of being human than I did yesterday, another shot at more gracefully executing this precious, fleeting, endlessly surprising challenge of being alive.
An early riser, an optimist by nature, a lover of mornings, I’m always eager to launch myself into the day. And it doesn’t take much to make me happy: A cup of strong coffee laced with cream or a handful of frozen blueberries from my summer-stash in the freezer, a silly joke shared with my husband, a good-morning text from a far-away friend, the hairy woodpecker hanging upside-down at the feeder, busily extracting his morning ration of sunflower seeds, a sky fluid with traveling clouds executing their own sublime choreography, or a soft grey mantle of mist draped across the nearby hills. Looking around at the life I’m privileged to live, I see much to be grateful for.
Yet I’m also conscious these days, in a way I never have been before, that simple gratitude for all that’s good in the world just isn’t enough anymore. At least, it’s not enough for me. [continue…]