beautiful things

photo 1This quiet morning. My friend asleep in her bed, snuggled deep in a nest of pillows, her faithful terrier molded to the curve of her back. The gentle rise and fall of the covers, her breath coming slow and steady when I peek in to check on her.

Six a.m. My shift. The house is still but for the steady tick of the kitchen clock, empty but for the two of us. What twists and turns of fate have brought us to this moment? One woman engaged in the deep inner work of letting go of life. And the other, me, still here, striving to see this world as perfect, to love it as it is.

I pour coffee, slice a peach, and carry my breakfast to the back deck where the two of us have spent so many companionable, peaceful hours over the last year. The dark trees are still silhouetted against the sky. Clouds at the horizon melt to shades of rose. The sky lightens. In the new light, dragonflies stitch invisible seams through the morning. A blue heron wings by, heading from one secret pond to another.

photo 6My notebook is open before me, the lovely white page. I tip my full heart over and pour myself out. A list takes shape: all the hard, sad things. It doesn’t take long to write them down. Just putting words to these feelings brings a swift, unexpected relief, like setting down a bag full of rocks. Tears come. This, too, is a relief.

And then, as I read through my list, one thing is suddenly, startlingly clear. [continue…]

how we spend our days

sunriseAnnie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” a line that resonated deeply with me when I first read it years ago.

“How We Spend Our Days” is also the name of a wonderfully intimate monthly series in which writers (including some of my favorites) share glimpses of the private lives and processes behind the words we share with the world.

Today, I’m honored to be the guest writer over at Catching Days.

Please do come visit, read my essay, and say hello over at Cynthia Newberry Martin’s lovely site.  Click here.

when the going gets tough

tough goingWhen the going gets tough may I resist my first impulse to wade in, fix, explain, resolve, and restore. May I sit down instead.

When the going gets tough may I be quiet. May I steep for a while in stillness.

When the going gets tough may I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. May I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.

When the going gets tough may I practice with what I’m given, rather than wish for something else. When the going gets tough may I assume nothing. May I not take it personally. May I opt for trust over doubt, compassion over suspicion, vulnerability over vengeance.

When the going gets tough may I open my heart before I open my mouth. [continue…]

the gift of presence

October mapleLast week I drove through lashing winds and wild rains to a small town in Connecticut, to give a talk to a group of library friends. Afterward, a woman from the audience approached me as I stepped between the podium and the book table. It was clear she had a question, one she preferred not to share with the whole crowd.

We chatted for just a few minutes, barely long enough for her to articulate her thoughts about being lost on the path of midlife, or for me to respond in any way that might be helpful. It was a conversation that really called for a walk, a cup of tea, time — not the rushed reassurance I tried to offer her while people were lining up to buy books.

But I’ve been thinking about her over the last few days, as I’ve done the mundane tasks of keeping my own life on track: watering the house plants, vacuuming, walking the dog, doing the laundry, paying bills and answering emails, raking leaves, planning dinner and shopping for groceries. Nothing terribly exciting or important, just the ordinary work of being me.

The woman’s children are grown and she’s recently retired from a full-time career that satisfied her for years. She’s neither young nor old, her health is good, her life is good. Her days, she told me, are busy still, taken up with family, volunteer work, seeing friends, and caring for others. She is making a difference in her world, grateful her new freedom means she’s able to be there for those who need her.

And yet, she said, there’s something missing. She’s not quite certain that what she’s doing is “enough.” There’s a nagging guilt, a sense of inadequacy, a suspicion that she’s not being productive enough or successful enough or impressive enough.

“I know that feeling,” I said to her. “I have it, too.” [continue…]

Paradise in Plain Sight (and a give-away)

82522Come see the garden,” my new online friend said to me, years ago. We had never met, barely knew each other through the ether, and yet here she was, inviting me to her sanctuary.

I was a New Hampshire housewife contemplating a field of granite rocks beyond my kitchen window. She was a west coast Zen priest, the rightful inheritor of a venerable Japanese garden tucked away in a suburb of LA.

What did we have in common? Perhaps it was something as simple as the belief that an ordinary life is a gift to be reckoned with — that folding socks and driving the carpool and washing supper dishes are opportunities for growth and grace. And we also shared this: a desire to fully inhabit the present moment by learning to pay attention to the ground beneath our own two feet.

It doesn’t sound like much — being quiet, noticing where you are, appreciating what you see, realizing that you already possess what you’ve been looking for because you already are everything you seek.  Of course, this kind of seeing, this kind of unvarnished intimacy with one’s self, is also the task of a lifetime. Hard work. Simple. Not simple. Endless. Worth it.

So, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that we first “met” because our books crossed each other’s doorsteps. [continue…]