to love like a grandmother

grammie s“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.” ~Derek Wolcott

I was not the best little girl. Shy, bookish, solitary, dreamy, not athletic, a bit chubby, I was certainly no trouble-maker. At school, a year younger than most of my classmates, utterly clueless about fashion, part of no clique and always two steps behind on the latest trend, I kept my head down and my mouth shut, hoping not to be noticed. At home, where repercussions for misbehavior were swift, I did as I was told and tried to stay out of the way. I read a lot. I wrote. I colored, painstakingly, in a beloved, finely drawn coloring book with my colored pencils. I sat contentedly on the floor of my bedroom, making tiny dolls from wooden clothespins and sewing clothes for them.

But the truth is, at my grandmother’s house, I pushed the limits. When my brother and I were little we spent many weekends with our grandparents, who were happy to give my young, overworked parents a break. My grandmother who, at the age I’m remembering her, was just a few years older than I am now, seemed to me at once frail, elderly, and immortal. She was tiny, less than a hundred pounds, with feet the size of a small child’s. Asthma sometimes forced her to lie down on the couch in the middle of the day, wheezing with each breath. Her heart was weak. She was always in and out of the hospital, for gallstones and kidney stones and I don’t know what else. And yet, because I’d never known anyone to die, it never occurred to me that someday she would. [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…]

empty

reclining buddhaI awake this morning to a leaden, pre-storm sky, not yet light, the room silent but for my sleeping husband’s quiet breathing. The holiday season over, the work of this new year not yet begun, I gaze out the window near our bed, studying the dark shadows of the mountains beyond and searching for the right word to put to my feelings.

Melancholic. Yes, a little.

We said good-bye to Jack yesterday, knowing it will be early June before he’s home again. The departure of a grown child, even to a life he loves and thrives in, always brings with it a quick, sharp pang of parting. And although it’s only January 3 by the calendar, I’m more aware of endings at this moment than new beginnings. The year ahead will hold unexpected blessings, certainly, but there will undoubtedly be heartbreak, too. The poignance of more comings and goings, changes and transformations, as well as more permanent losses. And my soul, anticipating, has already shouldered some of that grief.

Tired. That, too.

It’s been a tough few weeks. First there was all the bustle and preparation of Christmas, the shopping and cooking and cleaning, the care taken to uphold our traditions, to create a special season, a lovely day, a whole series of delectable meals. And then, no sooner was the holiday ushered out and the house set to rights, than we found ourselves entertaining an uninvited guest. [continue…]

spark joy
(and my go-to holiday recipes)

IMG_5882When our sons were young, there was no holding off Christmas. Henry, born December 18, absorbed holiday melodies in the womb, from “Jingle Bells” to the Messiah. His in-utero nickname was Bing, for Crosby, which morphed into Der Bingle after a visiting friend introduced us to the German diminutive. (Of course, we had no way of knowing then that music would turn out to be his “language” of choice but now, looking back, it seems almost pre-ordained; he arrived in a season of shimmer and twinkle, surrounded by love and borne into our arms on a wave of joyful noise.)

That year, in the final weeks of my first pregnancy and with a December due date looming, my husband Steve and I were organized in a way we’ve never been before or since: all our gifts bought and wrapped and shipped weeks in advance, a tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving; holiday cards mailed December first and a newly appointed nursery awaiting its tiny occupant. All was in readiness, every diaper and onesie neatly folded and stacked, every holiday ornament shining in its place.

Four days before Christmas we brought our precious newborn home from the hospital, dressed him up in the miniature velveteen Santa suit my brother had given him, and snapped our first family photo in front of the tree. [continue…]

finding goodness

kenesaw walkWhen I was child, my dad’s dental office was attached to our house. On one side of the door was our private, domestic world: home. Pass through the back room with its overflowing bookcases full of dental textbooks and journals, maneuver around the desk piled high with bills and paperwork, step through the small brown door by the laundry room, and you were in the reception area of my parents’ busy practice. Many afternoons I’d forgo the TV reruns my brother was watching in our den and slip into my dad’s quiet waiting room to read magazines. I loved the jokes in the Readers Digest, the photographs in Life, the lavish meals in Gourmet, and, most of all, the hidden pictures in Highlights.

There was a trick to solving those optical illusion puzzles with their lists of random objects hiding in plain sight. At first glance, all you’d see was the scene itself, a complex drawing of animals in the jungle, perhaps, or a crowded playground scene. But squint your eyes just enough to change the focus, and you could begin to discern the outlines of those other things: a slice of bread, a pencil, a teacup, a button. The only way to find the button amidst the tangle of palm fronds and swinging monkeys was to blot out everything else. You had to narrow your gaze and go in search of that one thing you most wanted to see.

My life lately has felt as complex as those multi-layered drawings of my childhood. On the surface, things appear orderly enough. But what I’ve experienced internally is a series of invisible, painful losses — each a challenge to my equanimity, to my sense of the universe as a fair and benign place. Feeling fragile and overwhelmed, I’ve been experimenting with an emotional version of that old eye-squinting thing. I keep thinking I’ll suffer less if I can just look more deeply into the picture. Somewhere, I know, goodness is hiding in plain sight. My task is simply to find it.

And so I repeat these words to myself like a mantra: “Look for the good.” And then I narrow my focus until I begin to see what I’m hunting for: the delicate outline of a blessing, some well-camouflaged scrap of goodness amidst the hurt, something to be grateful for.

“Look for the good,” was the intention I carried with me to Georgia last week, as I flew south to see my son Jack for the first time in six months. Six months! It’s still almost inconceivable to me that I could go so long without seeing one of my children. Since he left New Hampshire in May to change schools and begin working toward a degree in sound engineering in Atlanta, Jack hasn’t slept under this roof for one night. We stay in touch by phone and text, but I’d never seen where he lives, or met his roommates, or ridden in his car. He was about to turn 22. It was time to go. [continue…]