no sides

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall — the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.    ~ E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

I’ve been listening to the crickets’ warnings all afternoon, trying to accept the truth: summertime cannot last forever.  Much as I would love a hundred more days just like this one, there’s no denying that change is in the air. From my “summer office”  — an old blue chair on the screened porch — I have a view of mountains, garden, and sky.  It’s as serene a vista as any human being could hope to call home.  There is not another person in sight and I’ve allowed my computer screen to darken into sleep mode on the table in front of me. And yet distractions are plentiful.

Bright, busy monarchs float from one purple verbena spire to another, and every few minutes I step outside to count them.  Six at once today, more than I’ve ever seen here at one time.  A pair of bluebirds splash in the birdbath while woodpeckers and jays come and go from the feeder. A breeze rustles through the leaves, clouds slide by, bees hum, the sun slips behind the trees.  As the day turns and the shadows lengthen, the cricket song intensifies, as if more and more insect musicians are finding their way into the field, tuning up their instruments, and joining the symphony.  It’s hard to get much writing done.

Every year, my family teases me for mourning the end of summer even before the 4th of July fireworks are over.  I always want more – more dawn hikes up the mountain, more strawberries and blueberries and peaches to pick, more arugula and basil to cut from the garden, more swims in the pond, more dinners on the porch, more bouquets of cosmos and zinnias, more fires on the hilltop, more s’mores eaten in the dark, more nights of deep sleep with all the windows open. [continue…]

honor system

Acouple of weeks ago a friend texted me a photo from his local farmstand, where freshly picked cucumbers are priced according to length. Customers choose their produce, tally up what they owe, and leave their payments in a box. The farmer’s innocently suggestive drawing made me laugh.

But what really struck me about the photo was the nostalgic beauty of this age-old endeavor – a way of doing business which simply assumes the best in each of us. During a summer in which the Boy Scouts have apologized for the behavior of the President of the United States and PolitiFact rates just 20% of his statements as true and 69% as either outright lies or false, it’s hard not to feel sad and suspicious of our moral culture, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. As a nation, we are watching the criminal investigations into this administration unfold with a mixture of horror and fascination. Often times, as yet another presidential lie is exposed and supplanted by an actual fact, I wonder how this man goes to sleep at night. And what of those individuals who repeat his falsehoods in exchange for a paycheck? How do you live with yourself if you know most of the words that come out of your mouth are untrue and the things you do each day are dishonest?

When my son Jack was very young, his favorite story was Pinocchio. Although we didn’t watch many movies in our household, we did own the Disney version of Pinocchio and Jack watched it with endless fascination, as if that movie held for him the key to life. In a way, I think it did. There was Pinocchio, pulled again and again toward adventure and excitement and trouble, and tempted again and again to lie his way out of every jam. And there was Jiminy Cricket, whispering in his ear, “Go ahead, make a fool of yourself, then maybe you’ll listen to your conscience.”

What child really wants to hear “the still, small voice” that, as Jiminy himself acknowledges, “most people won’t listen to”? [continue…]

who is we?

If you’ve ever fallen out of touch with a friend, you already know this: reconnecting isn’t easy. You quiet your nerves and deliberate for a moment before, finally, after months, picking up the phone just to say “hi.” You wait a beat or two before hitting send on an email with a header like, “Everything ok? I’ve missed you!” That’s sort of how it feels to me today, as I sit in my somewhat messy, decidedly lived-in kitchen and type these sentences onto the screen. I could clean up all the dishes from the veggie soup I’ve just made and rinse out the cans for recycling. Or I can let them wait, take a deep breath, put my fingers on the keys, and trust that  words will come.

This morning I listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer in which he explains why he spends the first hours of his day in silence. “I just sit there,” he says, “trying to sift through my projections, my distortions, trying to find the voice behind my chatter, trying to find, of all the things passing through my head, if there is any one thing worth committing to the page.” Although I haven’t been doing much sitting lately – there are too many weeds in the garden to allow for that – I’ve been engaged in a similar kind of daily sorting and sifting and wondering. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence,” Gandhi advised, words I’ve pondered while questioning my own writing, how to respond appropriately to the unfolding events in our world, and whether there’s any need to add one more voice to the clamor.

Reading the New York Times over breakfast, tuning in for the latest CNN breaking news updates as I peel potatoes in the evening, I’m at once pulled in and appalled. How to reconcile these small pleasures – the comfort of a morning cup of coffee, the routine of making a meal in my own familiar kitchen – with the deeply disturbing developments reported in the paper or on my TV screen? [continue…]

an oasis of silence

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.

[continue…]

how is your heart today?

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…]