I’ve just flicked on the white Christmas lights – there are bright, tiny twinkles on the porch, on the tree, around the fireplace. Earlier, I ran some errands in town and bought groceries at the store where the guys behind the counter know every customer by name. I stopped in at the local bookstore to sign a few copies of my book for special orders. Back home, I filled the birdfeeder and stood outside for awhile, watching the sky change color and waiting for the hungry chickadees to come close. I sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea and ordered a couple of final gifts. The day flew by. It was good, full of reminders of what I love about our life in this small New England town. And now dusk is falling, along with the temperature; by tomorrow morning it’s predicted to be below zero. Our son Jack, home for this week, is off playing basketball with a friend. My husband is still at work. And there is time, just enough time, to write a few words before I have to start making dinner.
Usually I would relish this moment – a brief pause in the midst of life to gather some thoughts about the meaning of the living. And yet, I’ve been hesitant to write lately. [continue…]
It’s just after 5 a.m. as I type these words, still completely dark outside. But my friend Margaret Roach and I have already said “Good morning” via Skype with a blitz of typed messages. (It’s way too early to talk out loud and risk waking my husband, recovering from a week of flu in our bedroom down the hall.)
Margaret reports she’s having trouble sleeping these days, too. Combine post-election angst, the unusually warm November days, darkness descending suddenly at 4 pm each afternoon, and a moon that demands one’s full attention, and it’s little wonder that we’re each feeling a bit out of sync with our normal routines.
“The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” ~ Tennesee Williams
I wonder what would happen if we were all to commit ourselves, over these next months, to small gestures of love, healing, and reconciliation? Would the national mood of distrust and divisiveness change for the better?
What would happen if we took our cues from the graceful, forceful words spoken yesterday by Hillary Clinton and President Obama, and by the President-elect as well, all of whom encouraged Americans to come together now, and to do whatever we can, wherever we are, to repair our torn social fabric?
What would happen if those of us who grieved the results of this election chose today, and in the days ahead, to transform that grief into renewed determination — determination to create a kinder, safer, more tolerant country, one in which to be a citizen means to uphold our deepest national values of freedom and dignity and respect for all Americans?
What if we were to stake out this small territory as our first patch of common ground: a respect for our imperfect yet precious democracy, manifested by an insistence, from both sides, that the President-elect start making good, right now, on his election-eve promise to reunite the country? [continue…]
My friend is a middle-school English teacher, a job he loves with an infectious passion. He works tirelessly to instill in his students a love of reading and of good literature, from Tuck Everlasting to Johnny Tremain. In his classes, the students write every day. And then they read their work aloud, every single one of them volunteering in turn to stand up in front of their classmates and share their innermost thoughts. Secure in the knowledge that they will not be judged, ridiculed, or bullied, these thirteen-year-olds become better writers. They go deep, they stretch, they grow, and they come to trust one another with their most tender thoughts, struggles, and observations.
Such a sense of security and civility in a classroom doesn’t just happen.
This culture of respect is created, moment by moment and day by day, by a teacher who lets his students know that from the moment they walk through the door, their voices will be heard and honored. My friend teaches, by daily example and through ongoing heartfelt discussions with his students, that their greatest achievement in his English class isn’t a perfect test score, but the environment they create together in the classroom – a safe haven in which kindness rules, acceptance is a given, and each person’s opinions matter.
But these days, my friend is concerned. [continue…]
It is one of those late, mild, autumn days that feel particularly precious in New England. We love them even more because those of us who live here know the rhythm of our seasons all too well. There won’t be many more afternoons like this one. In just a week or two, the landscape will be entirely different, scrubbed and bare, gray and frozen, far less hospitable. As I type these words, the world beyond my kitchen windows is bathed in molten sunlight. Bright yellow leaves drift down from the maples nearest the house, so that even the ground seems to glow and burn with light.
As always in October, I find myself thinking backwards, aware of the special resonance this month has had for me for as far back as I can remember. As a child, I loved October because it was my birthday month. I associated the brilliant change of season with the big change for me of being another year older; the two went hand in hand, just as did chilly mornings and knee socks. I remember brief, gasp-inducing October swims in icy waters; fried dough and ferris wheels and charcoal birthday portraits on gray paper at country fairs; the winey, intoxicating fragrance of Concord grapes ripening by the roadside. The Octobers of my childhood included pumpkins to carve, Halloween costumes to make, and so many leaves to rake into piles under my father’s instruction that my hands would sport blisters before the work was done.
Earlier today, a wooden crate of Macoun apples at the farmer’s market made me suddenly miss my now-grown boys as they once were. How I would love to relive our old apple-picking and pumpkin-choosing traditions. Autumn was always a good time to be a mother. The truth is, having children gave me permission to be a kid again myself, to spend hours with my sons stirring pots of applesauce on the stove, gathering acorns, and pressing the most perfect red leaves between sheets of wax paper tucked into our fattest books. [continue…]