who is we?

If you’ve ever fallen out of touch with a friend, you already know this: reconnecting isn’t easy. You quiet your nerves and deliberate for a moment before, finally, after months, picking up the phone just to say “hi.” You wait a beat or two before hitting send on an email with a header like, “Everything ok? I’ve missed you!” That’s sort of how it feels to me today, as I sit in my somewhat messy, decidedly lived-in kitchen and type these sentences onto the screen. I could clean up all the dishes from the veggie soup I’ve just made and rinse out the cans for recycling. Or I can let them wait, take a deep breath, put my fingers on the keys, and trust that  words will come.

This morning I listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer in which he explains why he spends the first hours of his day in silence. “I just sit there,” he says, “trying to sift through my projections, my distortions, trying to find the voice behind my chatter, trying to find, of all the things passing through my head, if there is any one thing worth committing to the page.” Although I haven’t been doing much sitting lately – there are too many weeds in the garden to allow for that – I’ve been engaged in a similar kind of daily sorting and sifting and wondering. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence,” Gandhi advised, words I’ve pondered while questioning my own writing, how to respond appropriately to the unfolding events in our world, and whether there’s any need to add one more voice to the clamor.

Reading the New York Times over breakfast, tuning in for the latest CNN breaking news updates as I peel potatoes in the evening, I’m at once pulled in and appalled. How to reconcile these small pleasures – the comfort of a morning cup of coffee, the routine of making a meal in my own familiar kitchen – with the deeply disturbing developments reported in the paper or on my TV screen? [continue…]

how is your heart today?

It is still dark, not yet five, too early to be awake. But here I am, eyes wide open. It’s a new habit, this four a.m. restlessness blossoming into a low-grade anxiety that makes going back to sleep impossible. But this morning, oddly, it’s a question that nudges me to consciousness:

How is your heart today?

I lie in bed for a while, taking stock. How is my heart? There’s no easy answer.  And so I try to remember, instead, where I first heard or read these provocative, tender words.  In a book? A conversation? A blog post?

More curious now than sleepy, I turn on the light, reach for my glasses and phone, and Google the words “How is your heart today?” [continue…]

mending the world

My mom, who is eighty, gets up in the dark every morning. She likes to sit near the window in her living room, mug of tea in hand, and watch the sun come up across the pond.   “I don’t know how many sunrises I have left,” she said to me recently. “And I don’t want to miss a single one.”

I may be twenty-two years younger than she is, but I feel exactly the same way. Over here on my side of town I’m up, too, watching the day begin. Sometimes my mom sends me a photo of her sunrise, and I respond with a photo of mine. You might think that after ten years of living in this house with its southeasterly view of mountains and sunrises, I’d take the dawn for granted. In fact, the opposite is true. What my husband and I have learned from rising early enough to observe the beginnings of hundreds of days here is that no two sunrises are alike. Of course I could sleep through the quiet drama, or lose myself in the morning headlines or my Facebook news feed, or go about my business of getting breakfast ready and coffee made. The day arrives, after all, whether I’m bearing witness to it or not.

But still, morning after morning, I stand in the kitchen or, often enough out in the yard in my slippers, and take note of the changing light. It’s only a moment or two, a moment carved out of time and devoted simply to pausing and being and seeing. And every morning, almost without fail, my own heart lifts with the sun – for so begins another day on the planet, another day of being here, another day of striving to do a better job of being human than I did yesterday, another shot at more gracefully executing this precious, fleeting, endlessly surprising challenge of being alive.

An early riser, an optimist by nature, a lover of mornings, I’m always eager to launch myself into the day. And it doesn’t take much to make me happy: A cup of strong coffee laced with cream or a handful of frozen blueberries from my summer-stash in the freezer, a silly joke shared with my husband, a good-morning text from a far-away friend, the hairy woodpecker hanging upside-down at the feeder, busily extracting his morning ration of sunflower seeds, a sky fluid with traveling clouds executing their own sublime choreography, or a soft grey mantle of mist draped across the nearby hills. Looking around at the life I’m privileged to live, I see much to be grateful for.

Yet I’m also conscious these days, in a way I never have been before, that simple gratitude for all that’s good in the world just isn’t enough anymore. At least, it’s not enough for me. [continue…]

Still hard, and more beautiful than ever

sunrise aug 22JPG

Iwas outside at dawn this morning, as I’ve been most days this summer. Standing in the wet grass, watching the molten, majestic sun slide from behind the mountain into a rose-colored sky, two thoughts occurred to me at exactly the same time: Life is still hard. And it’s more beautiful than ever.

The hard things are easy to list. They’ve been running on an endless loop in my head through every sleepless night this week: An ongoing conversation with my younger son that keeps ending badly. The helplessness of not knowing how to make things better. Worries about the other son as he wraps up a summer job he’s loved and embarks on a new life chapter. A slightly frayed, unraveling edge in my marriage — and not knowing how to mend that, either. The piles of things around the house that I should have cleared away by now and the to-do list that doesn’t ever seem to get any smaller. The familiar, nagging sense that I’m spread too thin, letting too many people down, not doing enough or being enough or giving enough.

Wakefulness takes its own toll, as if exhaustion has peeled off a protective layer, leaving me a little more raw and vulnerable than usual. I am less resilient and resourceful; more prone to sudden, silly tears, frustration, anxiety. I do an interview over the phone, make a birthday dinner for my dad, hand-write a stack of letters, pay the bills, read a bound galley that needs a blurb, call to congratulate a friend who’s just finished writing her book, sort the laundry, sweep the floor. I try again with my son. Take my husband’s hand. Pick flowers for the table and bake scones from scratch. Take a deep breath, and then another. Take a run. Smile at a stranger on the street. These are all good things to do. And yet. My mind feels not quite all here. I’m tired. And it’s still hard.

And beautiful.


Present Moment

They are home at last, both sons.  And I’m perched here at the kitchen table, for about two brief minutes before the potatoes boil (three men in the house–grilled steaks and mashed potatoes for dinner).  All afternoon, I thought there would be an hour or so to sit down and write my weekly blog post, but I’d forgotten how quickly a day flies by when there is no time to gaze out the window, daydreaming sentences.  I can tell already that the rhythms are going to be different around here this summer; it may take me a while to adjust.  My yoga mat sits untouched on the floor between the living room and the kitchen.  I haven’t answered a single email, or meditated, or gotten back to the guy who wants to schedule a reading, or glanced at the front page of The New York Times.

But I’ve made several rounds of breakfast, taken a run with Henry, done a huge load of grocery shopping, washed lots of sheets and soggy towels, heard detailed synopses of the latest episodes of “The Office,” bought two quarts of freshly picked strawberries at the farmer’s market, cut peonies and irises from the garden, set the porch table, cooked a welcome-home feast for Jack.  I can’t quite believe that it’s dinner time already, that I feel this tired, and that I never got any “real” work done today, let alone a downward dog or a long deep breath.  And I feel renewed admiration for every woman who manages a busy household, and still finds time to write and read and think.  For every woman who works outside the home, and manages to take care of the people in the home as well.  For all the women who juggle way more than I do — raising children and earning a living and tending to those in need — and who nevertheless also honor their commitments to themselves and their inner lives.

The soul work we do is so subtle, so easily postponed to another day, so low, sometimes, on the list of priorities.  There is always so much that must be done, that we tend to let go of those things that feel like self-indulgent extras.  It seems impossible, at times, to find room in our busy, demanding lives to allow for silence and solitude and regeneration.  Today, there’s been more hustle and bustle and conversation going on in these rooms than we’ve seen in months.  There are piles everywhere.  Plans being made, tennis rackets and shoes proliferating, dirty glasses filling the sink.  I’m sort of amazed at how much sheer space they take up, these grown boys of mine.

And yet, tonight feels like a party. My three favorite people in the world are right here:  husband, two sons.  At least I have the presence of mind to pay attention, to be grateful, to remember that this really is IT:  the life I have, the best life there is, the present moment.