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…]

oasis

IMG_7556-4The surgeon was running a little late. I was right on time. I had followed every pre-op instruction to the letter: donated a unit of my own blood to receive back during surgery, had an MRI and new X-rays, taken my liquid iron and B vitamins and blood thinner and Celebrex, met with an anesthesiologist, a physical therapist, a pharmacist. I’d given up coffee and my evening glass of wine days ago, had my teeth cleaned (from now on, that will involve a precautionary dose of antibiotics), tidied up the house and paid the bills, and scrubbed my right hip twice a day for three days with Hibiclense. I even got my hair cut.

Through it all, I worried and wondered. Was I doing the right thing? Would I be better off to accept my lot, buck up, and carry on with my own two painfully arthritic hips? Was I trying too hard to hold on to youth? Being greedy to want to hike or do triangle pose or ride a bike again? Or would I look back, as a few hip-replacement veterans predicted, and wonder why I waited so long to get new parts?

By the time I climbed into my assigned bed in a small pre-op cubicle at New England Baptist Hospital last Friday, there was nothing more for me to do. And there was certainly no point to any more mental dithering and debating. A curious, unexpected calm descended.

[continue…]

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…]

this (good) life

photo 4A mid-summer Monday morning. After a weekend away, I’ve spent a couple of hours setting the house back to rights. Emptying jars and vases of their dead flowers, vacuuming up the scattered petals, watering plants and deadheading lilies, gathering laundry into a hamper and getting the first load going in the basement.

The kitchen is quiet. Beyond the windows, which are all cranked open to their fullest on this steamy day, cardinals and blue jays vie for turns at the feeder — unaware, for the moment anyway, of the blueberries ripening on bushes just a few feet away. As always, it’s a race between me and the birds to see who will get there first to harvest the small crop. (Usually, I lose. A watchful catbird is already hopping along the top of the chaise lounge in the yard, taking stock of the bounty.)

I must confess I’m feeling a bit unsure about what to write here after a few months of not writing at all. No excuses for the silence, other than that I’ve been busy elsewhere. To offer a full “report” would be impossible for me – and tedious for you. Yet, sitting quietly on my kitchen stool, I discover there are a few thoughts that have been waiting their moment to emerge after all. I can’t say everything that’s on my mind, but I can say this: I feel softened by the season, slowed down in my thinking but perhaps a bit more raw and open in my emotions. Life has been tender and lovely and bittersweet, suffused with beauty, laughter, and tears.

There have been no big revelations, but rather countless variations on this one small truth: joy and sadness are not opposites. In fact, they co-exist, all tangled up together in the same day, the same moment, the same unguarded heart. [continue…]

in awe of the subtle

ice fairyI am perched on a stool in my friend’s kitchen, looking out at the same mountains I see from my own kitchen stool on the other side of town. A reverse view. On the sill above the sink, a row of single paperwhites rising out of cobalt blue jars. Beyond the tiny star blossoms, on the other side of the window, a few flakes of snow dancing through the air. And then, in the time it takes me to type a sentence and look up again, the storm quickens, the dance becomes a fury, and the solid, slumbering mountains disappear behind a swirling veil of white.

My friend sleeps in the bedroom down the hall. When she awakens, I’ll be here. We’ll have a late breakfast together, drink tea, listen to the wild wind and watch the snow fall. I suspect there is comfort for both of us in that.

A sentence sent by another friend over the weekend about sums it up: “Sitting silently beside a friend who is hurting may be the best gift we have to give.”

Sitting silently is something I’m always happy to do. The gift, needless to say, goes both ways. We are all hungry for silence. To dive down, to find the beauty in a moment’s passing, to inhabit time with a breath, to be fully present to another’s beating heart, is both an act of perception and imagination. I love that even a time of stillness can be shared through the gift of presence; that silence, too, speaks a language of caring and connection. [continue…]