choosing joy

I’ve spent the last few weeks rummaging around in the basement, carting boxes of stuff off to Goodwill, decorating for the holidays, making granola and other gifts from the kitchen. When my mind is unsettled, I have a hard time sitting still. Better to put my body to work doing something physical that manifests visible results, whether it’s baking cookies or cleaning the shower drain (I did that this morning).

Still, it feels strange to be entering the holiday season, stringing lights and cutting greens, when there’s so little cause for celebration in the world at large and when so much of what we hold sacred (truth, democracy, and decency for starters) is under full-scale assault. To pay close attention to what’s happening in our country is to wrestle with painful realities most of us couldn’t have begun to imagine even a year ago. It is to open, as Annie Proulx recently observed, “a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.”

And yet, it is December, time in our house to put up a tree, to welcome grown children home, to bake cranberry bread and wrap gifts and gather with friends and family. What I always love most about these weeks before Christmas is the opportunity to connect with loved ones near and far, sending packages off in the mail, exchanging cards and holiday letters, lighting candles and gathering around crowded dinner tables. But this year feels different, as if the darkness of our human affairs has dimmed the lights of hope and faith and joy. [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…]

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…]

“thank you”

cranes“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~       Meister Eckhart

If you had visited my friend Lisa last week, the first thing you would have seen upon entering her living room is a large bright mobile hanging near the window – a thousand and one paper cranes strung on thread and suspended from a curved branch.

The cranes were created over the last couple of months by visitors to the Hilltop Café, a small coffeehouse at the farm up the road from the Pine Hill School, where Lisa has been a beloved kindergarten teacher for many years. Anyone who came into the cafe this winter to eat or grab a coffee to go was invited to pause for a few moments to craft an origami crane and send healing thoughts Lisa’s way. The result: the beautiful wall hanging in her living room. Love made visible.

The phrase “it takes a village” comes to my mind many times a day lately, for that’s what we have here, a village of caring friends and thoughtful strangers who show up in all sorts of ways, and who do what they do in a spirit of love. There have been months of beautiful dinners, massages, flowers, stories written and pictures painted and cards sent; donations large and small from across the land; photos and memories shared, housecleaning, rides given, family and friends arriving to brighten the days. An abundance of much-needed, much-appreciated assistance, care, and concern.

No one can change Lisa’s diagnosis. And there’s no denying the challenges she faces each day: pills to take and transfusions to endure and a new port to contend with. There are side effects to every medication. There is the unknowable future. There is no cure. [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…]