I Want to Remember

I want to remember waking from the soft flannel nest of sleep beside my husband, pulling on warm clothes and stepping outside in the dark in time to see the day begin.

I want to remember the holy hush just before dawn, the mists rising out of the valley, the sharp, clear sky still pricked by the bright eye of Venus. I want to remember the way light returns slowly to this earth, taking its time. How it arrives at last from behind a curtain of rose and purple clouds. How glad I am to be here.

I want to remember the sudden uprise of Canada geese bursting through the silence, honking and flapping and lifting into to the sky, oblivious to our astonishment. I want to remember their wild call as they jockeyed into a ragged V before shearing off through the clear veil of morning. The way my husband and I smiled at each other, silent, as we watched them go.

I want to remember the cold smell of Gracies’s coat when I bury my face in her neck, her silky hair so dry it fairly crackles. She is twelve. I want to remember everything.

I want to remember the September woods. The rich, smoky, earthy smells of nature concluding a season’s business. I want to remember the great buttery clumps of mushrooms, such fecund, untouchable bounty. And when, exactly, did the pliant maple leaves grow brittle and thin enough to see through? How subtle was the moment when summer’s green palette was exchanged for the golden hues of fall? I want to remember the exquisite turning of this page, as the blue-green hills I’ve gazed upon all summer begin now to glow with color. I want to remember this: Don’t blink. Every hour the scene repaints itself. We are heading toward brilliance, fleeting and irrepressible.

I want to remember the nasturtiums, how they came up everywhere this year, tumbling through the garden like handfuls of jewels, tossed and scattered with wild abandon. I want to remember the shy orange poppies; all summer they held back, only to bloom now at the end of September, long after I’d given up all hope of them. I want to remember the greedy, glorious, rampant pink and violet petunias, spilling out of their pots, cascading over the steps, taking advantage of every barren crack in the walkway. I want to remember the hummingbird that comes each afternoon to drink their depths. I want to remember these days before frost lays claim to every cherished, fragile blossom.

I want to remember the industriousness of bees, the hum in the garden. I want to remember the slow undulation of a Monarch’s wings as it sips from a pink zinnia. I want to remember the robin splashing like a hedonist in the birdbath beneath a stand of exhausted sunflowers, their drooping, heavy heads plucked clean of seed. (I should cut them down, haul those useless stalks to the compost pile.) I want to remember how reluctant I am to see anything come to an end, and how even now I leave the dead flowers standing standing there, patiently waiting for me to summon resolve.

I want to remember the last breakfast on the screened porch, the penultimate bouquets, the hydrangeas drying on their curved stems, the end of peaches, the first Macouns from the trees up the road, the puckery sweetness of a Concord grape splitting on the tongue.

I want to remember Henry’s oatmeal cookies and the rich buttery smells in the kitchen, Diana Krall singing “Love Me or Leave Me” as he washes dishes at the sink. I want to remember how good it is to have a son come home.

I want to remember my favorite sandwiches, made without bread: sliced Brandywine tomatoes and white mozzarella ovals and basil leaves still warm from the sun. I want to remember the briny grit of sea salt, and juice dripping off my elbows, and not minding.

I want to remember dozing in the lawn chair with a book in my lap, as the first yellow leaves spin to earth. I want to remember days with windows wide open, and the way cold seeps through the house as soon as the sun disappears behind the trees. I want to remember Henry practicing Rachmaninoff. I want to remember lighting candles at dinner again, and how it feels to live in one place for five years, to feel one’s own roots sinking into the earth. I want to remember that change is part of being alive. I want to remember to take time to sit in silence, to breathe into the still point, where past and future are gathered. I want to remember some lines by T.S. Eliot:

Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
there would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.

I want to remember that in the week before I turn 54, I am vexed by a private catalog of imponderables. I want to remember that even these most perfect days and nights have been limned with sadness, punctuated by sleepless hours, a host of worries, questions without answers. I want to remember that sometimes I can set my troubles aside, choose instead to see my life as a blessing. I want to remember that surrender is always possible, and that I can be sad and grateful at the same time. Filled up and emptied out, both. Even a heavy heart can overflow with contentment. I want to remember to keep my eyes open, to pay attention. Life is short. I want to remember: this is it. There is only the dance.

Tell me, what do you want to remember?

(I write today inspired by my friend Lindsey’s poignant post on this theme at A Design so Vast. Thank you Lindsey!)

Summer Reading — Don’t Miss This

The toes in the hammock are a good sign. They mean I’ve remembered, for today anyway, that I already have enough. Enough time to rest, to play, to reconnect with my own idle, dreamy, summer-child self. They mean that, at least for today, I know this: my challenge is not to chase a perfect life, but rather to pause long enough to appreciate a perfect moment. Toes in the hammock mean that, just for today, I am choosing not to be overworked or overwhelmed or overcommitted. Today, some things are going undone. Not all expectations will be met, not all emails will be answered, and dinner will consist of the leftovers in the fridge. Instead of typing words on a screen or staring down a to-do list, or giving more than I can graciously afford to offer, I’m taking a break. I’m lying on my back under a tree, reading a book cover to cover, allowing my heart to fill and overflow with poetry, my soul to be nourished by the words of a kindred spirit.

I ordered Jena Strong’s first collection of poems, Don’t Miss This, a few weeks ago, just as soon as I read my friend Lindsey’s passionately enthusiastic review. Although I am a serial reader of memoir, it’s been a while since I allowed a new poet to enter my life. I’m a loyal re-reader of the poets I love, more likely to return to my handful of old favorites – Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Danna Faulds, Donald Hall, and Stanley Kunitz – than to tune my ear to a new voice, no matter how heralded.

But Jena’s book drew me immediately, in part because it is a memoir in poetry, a collection in which each poem stands fully and beautifully on its own while, at the same time, adding another strand to a story that I can’t imagine being told in any other way. As Jena explains, “The poems here trace a journey – to some extent in real time – through marriage, motherhood, sexual awakening, separation, and healing.”

I was startled, when I opened the book at random the day it arrived and began to read, to find myself in tears. Startled to feel such a powerful connection to this woman whose life path is so different from mine — who is so much younger than I am, and who is in the throes of mothering two small daughters, claiming her sexuality, coming out, and creating new relationships even as she struggles, with great care and compassion, to protect and honor the sanctity of old ones.

This, at a glance, is not the story of my life. And yet, it seemed as if every poem I read revealed to me something that is absolutely the story of my life. And what took my breath away was not the superficial details that separate me from this gifted young poet, but the slow, undeniable revelation of all that connects us: the intensity of emotion, the longing for self-acceptance, the faith that guides our steps and the sense of mystery that astonishes and humbles us as we make our slow, halting way forward. The love for our children, our spouses and partners and friends, and finally, for our own vulnerable, imperfect selves. The sustenance of seeing the sacred in the ordinary, the soul work of cultivating gratitude for a life that is not at all the one that was planned but that is, instead, the one we are meant to live. The courage to share a personal struggle, in the belief that it is only by revealing our cracks and fissures that we grow up spiritually, into our own true selves, at last.

To read this small, exquisitely written book and do it justice, I knew I needed to clear space. I needed to leave my cell phone on the kitchen counter, my work on my desk, the dishes in the sink. I needed to lie in the hammock beneath a vast, all-encompassing summer sky and allow myself the necessary luxury of deep reading. I have taken Jena’s title as a directive: don’t miss this. And so, today has been a first-page to last-page day, a vacation day right in the midst of everything, a gift to myself of time and poetry, beauty and kinship, summer air and chosen silence.

May you clear an essential space in your own life during this final month of summer and sink right down deep into something nourishing and good, something that feeds your soul. Take a chair outside, put your feet up, read a book that gives you back to yourself. Don’t miss this.

>SUMMER READING!

Last week, I gave away copies of Mary Oliver’s Collected Poems, Volumes One & Two. In the spirit of summer reading, and because I so enjoy sharing books I love, I’ve decided to give away a book each week during the month of August.

Jena’s book is available to purchase here. (And her lovely blog,about “waking up, making the coffee, and seeing what happens” is here.)

To be eligible to win a signed copy of Don’t Miss This, just leave a comment below, and tell me what YOU are reading this summer. I’ll draw a winner at random on Tuesday, August 7.

In the meantime, it’s a pleasure to share one of Jena’s poems, one I’ve read every day since the book arrived. (As I said, I am a devoted re-reader of poetry that speaks to me.) And if you’d like to read more about Don’t Miss This, click HERE to read Pamela Hunt Cloyd’s beautifully nuanced review.

What If?

What if you knew
that everything was going to be okay,
that something was in motion
beyond your field of vision,
beyond even the periphery
of your knowing?

What if you knew
that everything you want,
everything you’ve been seeking,
trying to figure out, missing,
is right here, already whole
in your hands, in your life?

What if taking in what is
could satisfy your longing?
What if you could rest your frantic, racing, busy mind
and rest your neglected, tired body,
put your head down in someone’s lap
to have your hair stroked,
like a cat, or a child?

What if you didn’t need to understand
how it works,
but could enjoy the magic
of how love shows itself
in the most unexpected, simplest of gestures?
What if everything is just as it should be?

What if nothing had to be better,
bigger, different, or other?
What would you do then?
Who would you be?

JIMMY FUND MARATHON WALK UPDATE:

My training is underway for my 26.2 mile walk on September 9, in memory of my friend Diane. I’ve taken a few 8-mile walks, am picking up the pace, and am feeling the soles of my feet growing tougher, my legs growing stronger by the day.

To read more about my reasons for making this walk, click HERE.

Click HERE to make a donation on my personal fundraising page.

And to all of you who have already supported me in this effort, my heartfelt thanks!

Running

All through August I’ve been out the door each day at 6:15, to run two and a half miles to town in time for a 7 a.m. yoga class. It is only for a month, this early class, but I’m hoping that after it ends I’ll continue with my own variation on the new routine. My morning run began as something I was making myself do; with each passing day, though, it’s felt more and more like a privilege, a gift, a blessing.

A few days ago Kristen at Motherese wrote about finding flow in her running this summer, and I understand exactly what she means. There is something about the rhythmic exercise of moving through space at your own speed, on your own two strong legs, that is liberating, exhilarating, and immensely satisfying. I love being out in the world before anyone else is up, love running all alone down the very middle of the road, even love the fact that, after four weeks of practice, I’ve shaved a few minutes off my time.

Three weeks from Saturday, I’ll be walking 26. 2 miles in the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk, raising money in memory of my dear friend Diane, who died of ovarian cancer last October. Knowing that every mile logged and every training hour put in is preparing me for the challenge has given me a great sense of purpose. I’m not just getting up before dawn for myself, I’m doing it for a cause, and that makes a difference, too. I’ve happily run in the rain and in the dark, walked ten miles all alone, pushed myself up hills I’ve never tackled before and, in the process, worn out one good pair of shoes. I’m also a bit more confident that when the day comes, I’ll be able to go the distance.

As summer draws to a close, I find myself, as usual, regretting all the things I didn’t do. I’m sorry that I didn’t read poetry in the hammock or set up the tent in the back yard. I wish we’d had more dinners on the porch, more swims in the pond, more fires on the hilltop, at least one picnic, or campout, or barbeque. Next week both boys will head back to school; already I feel the sense of loss that arrives with every Labor Day, as predictable as the first cool mornings, the spikes of goldenrod alongside the road, the symphonic thrum of crickets. The change of season is definitely bittersweet for me, the shorter days a reminder that this existence of ours is as transient as a summer cloud.

“The spiritual path,” writes Pema Chodron, “has always been learning how to die. That involves not just death at the end of this particular life, but all the falling apart that happens continually.” At fifty-two, I am constantly butting up against the fact that I can never hold on to anything, that nothing good ever lasts quite as long as I want it to, and that no matter how old I get or how “grown up” I should be by now, the letting go doesn’t get a whole lot easier.

Heading out in the morning, watching the sun come up over the mountains, the dawn light illuminating the mist as it drifts up from the valley, I am stopped in my tracks, simply by the sight of the sky. A sky, as my friend Lindsey says, “whose light comes from beyond the reach of our eyes.” How magnificent it all is: the beauty of another day’s beginnings, this cosmic offering that is ours for the taking, 365 days a year. Not a day goes by when I’m not pierced by some awareness of loss and time passing. But I’m learning to linger, too, in this place of gratitude. I think it really is the answer: we can live all curled up in our dark holes of regret, or we can rise up and stretch our limbs out into the beauty that is all around us. We can claim it as our own.

There all sorts of good reasons to wake up early. For me, the best reason is simply the opportunity to be present for a little longer, to welcome the sun coming up over the mountains, to notice how it appears just a bit later each morning, rises ever so slightly further to the south, alters the quality of the light, turns the season almost imperceptibly toward fall. These changes, these small deaths, are part of a vast choreography of impermanence. Gratitude is the awakened heart’s response to this eternal dance of life and death, this whirling dance of change. And so I’m choosing to focus on what is, and to be grateful for all the things I did manage to do this summer. I’ve walked and run for miles. I’ve grown stronger, healthier, faster. I’m nearly half-way to my fund-raising goal and determined to raise nearly three thousand more dollars before September 18. Meanwhile, I’ll keep running. I run for the exercise, for the joy of it, for the cause my friend believed in and, most of all, because I know how lucky I am that I still can.

If you wish to contribute to my Jimmy Fund walk in Diane’s memory, or in honor of a loved one, you may give in one of two ways:
• Visit my fundraising page at the Walk web site and follow the instructions to make a gift online.
• Write a check payable to “Jimmy Fund Walk.” On the memo line, write: “Dana Farber Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.” Send it directly to me at: Katrina Kenison Lewers, 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Thank you, my friends. I couldn’t do it without you!

End of Summer


The other day one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Lindsey at A Design So Vast, wrote a lovely end-of-summer post.  Reading her elegiac reflections made me realize that I wasn’t quite there yet myself; I’m having some trouble  acknowledging this change of season,  acquiescing to yet another ending.   You can see it in my half-there-half-here outfit this morning:  as I type these words I’m wearing flip flops and a wool sweater, trying to have it both ways.  I keep looking at my bathing suit, tossed on the edge of the bath tub:  if I don’t put it away, maybe I’ll take one more swim in the pond before the water gets too cold.  I was tempted by rust-colored chrysanthemums in pots at the farmer’s market on Wednesday, but here at home my pink petunias and impatiens are still blooming, alongside the fading hydrangeas and spent sunflowers; I keep watering, deadheading, prolonging.  There are local peaches in my refrigerator, a row of Brandywines on the window sill, the season’s first Paula Reds in a bowl:  summer and fall all mixed together, gloriously abundant.  I savor every bite. Yesterday I sat outside in the sunshine and ate tomatoes from my neighbor’s garden for lunch; by evening, we’d cranked the windows all shut and were glad to have hot corn chowder for dinner.  One son left for school on Tuesday, but one is still sound asleep upstairs on this weekday morning.  As long as it’s still summer vacation for him, I can pretend it’s summer for me, too.

And yet.  If I have learned anything at all these last couple of months, it is that I am still learning how to let go, still caught so often between my wish to stop time in its tracks and my longing to accept with more grace the transience of all things.  In New Hampshire, summer’s end always catches me off-guard, so swiftly do the lush ferns along the stone walls crumple into brittle brown tangles, so suddenly do the evenings turn from balmy to brisk.  Next week, Jack, too, will be back in school, and my bathing suit will surely be back in the drawer.  My own days will feel different then: shorter,  busier, and — I have to admit this — lonelier.  It’s still cool now, the temperature hovering right around 60; just too cold for that swim I’ve been so determined to have.  Jack has promised to take a hike with me, though.  I’m going to make him some pancakes, help him pack up his stuff, give him the car later to go visit a friend, settle in with Steve tonight to watch the semifinals of the U.S. Open.  And then tomorrow, I promise, I’m going to release my grip and let summer go.  It’s been good.  It’s over.  It’s okay.