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…]

dog love

photoIf we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life can give us.” ~ Martin Buber

D
ear Tess,

So, okay, I was wrong.

Love at first sight is possible after all. I wonder, though, was it the same for you? Did you really know I was your person, and that we were your family, just as immediately and as surely as we knew you were our dog?

I can admit this now: I didn’t actually believe I could give my heart away again — not so completely, not even to another black and white border collie with a paint-dipped tail and a coat of silken cowlicks.

Besides, I’d finally gotten sort of used to the pet-free life. Sleeping  a little later. Saving money on dog food and vet bills. Skipping the morning walk, the poop patrols around the yard. Staying in out of the rain. No one’s bladder to keep track of but my own. No dog hair on my black yoga pants, no stray bits of kibble crunching under foot, no new holes under the azalea or scratches in the pine floorboards. No one eating the appetizers off the coffee table or barking at the door to go in or out or staring at me with imploring eyes, telegraphing the unmistakable late-afternoon message: “Shut your laptop and put on your sneakers.”

photo copy 3Sure, there was an emptiness around here, but I’d almost stopped noticing it. Just as the silence after Henry and Jack first left home, crushing at first, became part of the fabric of my days, my wrenching grief over the death of your predecessor had softened over the winter into, well, a new kind of normal. We humans can get used to anything.

And then May came. [continue…]