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…]

mending the world


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…]

joy, tempered

img_1303I’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…]

a hymn to October

img_0911It 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.

img_0895As 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.

img_0928Earlier 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…]

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…]