The people who show up

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Matt the day after surgery.  Things actually went seriously south after this, but they are stable now.

For better or for worse, the last month has given me a lot of insight into certain friendships.  First let me say that Matt has an injury, not an illness, and he will be totally fine in time.  I realize this is a situation of great good fortune and that in the big picture this is just a hiccup.  It is also true, however, that this has been a substantially difficult few weeks in our  family’s little life.  Reentry into school, restarting sports, all with just one driver and adding many (many) doctor’s and PT appointments on top of everything else has been challenging. There were some additional non-Matt-related hiccups in the first week or two of September that added texture and complexity to our lives.  Everyone is fine now.

I also work full time, which is not inconsequential. In short, this has been a challenging time.  And certain people have absolutely blown me away with their support.  I will never forget the friends who showed up on our doorstep bearing food, sent gifts, or offered help.  People have sent and lent books and given many suggestions of things to read, watch, and think about.  People have come by to sit and keep Matt company for meals.  People have helped me with driving.

The kindness of people – family, close friends, and, frankly friends who weren’t that close before (but are now) is hugely notable.  It goes without saying that not everyone has responded this way.  That’s not what I want to dwell on.  What I want to consider, celebrate, and ostentatiously acknowledge, is the kindness of people in our lives who’ve gone out of their way to both help and check on us.  Even a simple text checking in and offering help goes SO FAR.  Seriously. The generosity of so many people has moved me and indelibly changed how I think about them.

It also has made me consider my own behavior in the past when friends near or far have struggled. I have been feeling a lot of guilt about certain instances in the past when I wasn’t there enough for friends.  I did not realize the insensitivity of not checking in, and now I do.  There are the friends who show up, and my devout, deliberate intention going forward is to be one of them for those I love.  It takes so little, honestly.  A phone call.  A swing by when you’re out doing errands.  A text.  I am sorry, and I am grateful, at the same time, all the time, right now.

Let’s be the people who show up.

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the iridescent and the dark

I have sometimes thought that there are moments when you can see it all – and if not the future, then all that has come before.

And I think also of the gathering net Evan threw into the water, and how he let it sink, and how he drew it up again, and how it showed us the iridescent and the dark, the lustrous and the grotesque.

– both Anita Shreve, The Weight of Water

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who are we?

I have been thinking a lot about this question of who we are.  Possibly precipitated by these these quotes which presented themselves to me over and over again this summer (reminding me, yet again, that there’s some inchoate logic behind what we think of when we think of it).

Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are – Arsene Houssaye

Maybe that’s who you are, what you remember. – Orson Scott Card

Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are – Jose Ortega y Gasset (from A First Sip, Instagram here)

Are we those we love, our memories, or our passions?  These all feel right to me. Perhaps we are all three.  Surely we are so much more, too.  I’ve been thinking about how I would personally answer these questions but also about the way that each of these quotes touches on external indicators of something truly internal.  Can we ever really know who we are?

Or are we always looking for hints, or clues, or the shimmer of that self, like a thread in a woven fabric or something glinting in the ocean?

I suspect it’s more the latter, and that’s why quotes that at who we are are so powerful.  Of course I am not certain.  What I do know is that some combination of what we love, what we remember, what we pay attention to feels like as good as any as a way to ascertain who we are.  That all resonates.

For now, that means that who I am lives somewhere in two tall teen and tween children, one gimp husband crutching around, sunsets, books, poetry, friends whose loyalty is deep and wide, the sky at all times of day.

That sounds about right to me.

Who are you?

 

 

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10 years

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My first post here was on 9/15/06.  That is ten years ago last week.  The picture above was taken a couple of weeks before my first blog post.

Ten years ago.

It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago that I thought, hmm, let’s try this.  Like all anniversaries, this one is an opportunity for reflection, and there are a great many ways my life is the same as it was that day and even more ways it is wildly different.

I have been blogging for a meaningful chunk of my adult life.  This place and the community it has introduced me to is a very important part of my daily existence.  I can’t imagine life without A Design So Vast.  I have printed out my annual blog posts every year and, hard bound, they take up half a shelf.  I guess that is my “book.”

We are rooted, and we are moving.  We are stagnant, and we are dancing. I have T.S. Eliot’s lines from Four Quartets in my mind (now and very often):

we must be still and still moving

Maybe I am not moving enough, here or elsewhere?  I do feel like I’m repeating myself a lot, writing about the same things over and over, even as some shifts are apparent (I write about Grace and Whit far less than I used to, most vitally).  So on this anniversary, I’d love to return to something I used to do, which is ask you what you want to hear about.  I’d really appreciate your thoughts on things you’d like to hear me write about.  Questions, thoughts, ideas.  Please bring them on!  Thank you in advance for anything you ask or share.

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This picture was taken 10 years to the week after the picture above, in the same city.  So much changes, so much stays the same.

 

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we know quite well it is not

It is not a life we are living.  It is life’s reward, beautiful because it seems eternal and because we know quite well it is not.

– James Salter, There and Then

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Things I Love Lately

 You Don’t Need An Extreme Bucket List to Find Happiness – I loved this piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams.  “I hope someday to see Machu Picchu. I fantasize about getting my master’s degree. There is a big world full of spectacular things, and I have so much I still want to experience within it. But today, I can make that fried chicken recipe I bookmarked three years ago…There is nothing standing in my way – no money to be saved up; no calendar to clear. Life is happening now, and the whole big lesson I got out of almost losing it far sooner than I ever planned is to not put off anything that catches my curiosity or moves my heart.”

A Year Without Oliver Sacks – Sacks is one of my favorite writers, and I think often of his legacy, share his writing, and return to his words myself.  This remembrance by one of his best friends made me ache for his loss, as well as swell with gratitude for his life.  His contribution was enormous (I also had no idea he knew Robin Williams, though it doesn’t surprise me, when I read it.  I hope they are together somewhere now, laughing hard).

American Crime.  I am not a huge TV watcher, but WOW.  I watched Season One over the summer and Season Two just a week or so ago while Matt was immediately post-surgery.  I loved Season Two even more than Season One, but found both incredibly riveting.  So, so, so good.

Matt has been reading a lot, since he’s mostly immobile.  He has recently read and enjoyed Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger, Valiant Ambition by Nathanial Philbrick, Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez, and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.  These are somewhat different than the fare I usually write about here, but if you have any books that you think he might like, we’d both love to hear about them!

I read a lot this summer, and I shared the rundown with brief thoughts on each book last week.  I am interested to hear what you have been reading.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find them all here.

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16 years

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16 years ago last Friday Matt and I were married.  As you can see above, it rained during the ceremony and after before clearing into a gorgeous night.  We were so young then, just babies, full of optimism and suntans and grand plans and high hopes. So much has turned out precisely like we planned it, and so many things have been surprises from left field.  I’d wager that the surprises have been more glorious and (when not glorious, often) more full of learning than the things that have gone according to plan.

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the night before your accident, August 18, Vermont

So … this anniversary looks a little different than we’d perhaps expected.  Last year we marked 15 with a dinner with our children (a detail we took some teasing for, but one I am happy about).  I’ve made a few jokes about how we’re focusing on the “for worse” and “in sickness” vows this year, which is perhaps uncharitable.

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The truth is, Matt, I’m wowed by your attitude and your positive spirit. See above for a text exchange of ours before your surgery.  Kelly Clarkson has been a refrain in our house in the last weeks.  This has not been fun for anyone, least of all you, and you remain undaunted.  Your behavior in the face of this challenge does a whole lot to remind me why I fell in love with you in the first place.  Thank you for that.  Only 4 more weeks in that brace!!

So.  Here we are.  It’s been rainy and sunny and stormy and certainly not dull.  I hope there are many more years ahead of us than behind, and I look forward to seeing what this 17th year holds.  I love you, Matt.

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we have to take wing

We have to take flight. It’s not given to us, served up on a pretty, parsley-bordered platter. We have to take wing. Was I brave enough to do that? Or would I be content to remain earthbound?

-Elizabeth Church, The Atomic Weight of Love

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Summer reading

I read a lot this summer.  At the outset of the season, as I wrote my mid-year reading review, I realized I hadn’t read much fiction this year.  So I swore to myself that the summer months would hold a lot of novels.  And they did.  I would love to hear what you’ve been reading, too!

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren – I loved this book, which is suffused with the wonder of the natural world.  Jahren’s beautifully-written story is a love letter to science.

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub – Straub’s book is entertaining, wise, and truly has its finger on the pulse of what it means to be in midlife.  I related to an uncomfortable degree.

The Spiritual Life of Children, Robert Coles – I’ve long wanted to read this book and I finally did.  A thoughtful perspective on the deep and rich interior lives that children often have.  My favorite passage is here.

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman – Taut, page-turning mystery, with a complicated female protagonist to boot.  I’m in.

There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter, James Salter – Essays by one of my very favorite writers about the traveling.  Beautiful prose, short snippets, you can see parts of the world in these pages.  My favorite passage is here.

What Alice Forgot, Lianne Moriarty – An entertaining confection that raises a big question: what do we take for granted over time, and what do we need to remember?

The Weight of Water, Anita Shreve – I don’t know why I’ve not read this before, but I’m glad I did.  Womanhood, relationships, the ocean – so much story in here, and so gorgeously written.  My favorite passage will go up next week.

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley – Gripping from page one.  I couldn’t put this down.  I found the ending a little unsatisfying, I’ll be honest, but this is an excellent, fast-paced story.

Days of Awe, Lauren Fox – A recommendation from my sister, and she’s never wrong.  A lovely book about friendship, marriage, motherhood, and adulthood.

The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth Church – A recommendation from Katie, who’s also never wrong!  I adored this book about being a woman in the mid 20th century, subjectivity, science, birds, love, and identity.

The House of Secrets, Brad Meltzer – My love of thrillers is well-documented, and I tend to read everything Meltzer writes.  This book, heavy on the Benedict Arnold history, was very entertaining.

It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort – That this memoir is both a tear-jerker and a laugh-out-loud page-turner is a testament to the lovely writing and the irrepressible spirit of the writer.  Highly recommend.

The Singles Game, Lauren Weisberger – Fun, light, entertaining. I enjoyed this look inside the tennis circuit.

Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers – I loved this book, which managed to be both light and deeply wise.  Despite the way the story careens all over the place (literally and figuratively), it powerfully describes the love between a mother and her children. I rarely read the NYT Book Review, but I did about this book, and these lines (by Barbara Kingsolver) have stayed with me: “The heroes of this frontier are Ana and Paul, a dynamic duo who command us to pay attention to the objects we find in our path, and stop pretending we already know the drill … she (Josie) sees them learning to take what a human animal really needs, divining the crucial difference between genuine dangers and manufactured ones. She is learning to be the mother her life demands, rearing the sort of brave humans the future will require.”

The Girls, Emma Cline –  As wonderful as I’d been told.  Cline’s story is feral and fecund, powerfully evoking the vulnerability of teenage girls and their deep desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  I could not put this book down.

The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton – A wonderful, bittersweet evocation of adolescence.  This book is an elegy for a way of life that’s receding (farming) as well as for the innocence of childhood.  Tear-jerking, thoughtful, and lovely.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber – I loved Nadia’s wry humor and her clear-eyed ability to see the holy in even the most winding paths.  This is a beautiful, powerful book.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple – I laughed out loud while reading this.  Often. Another book I’m not sure why I waited so long on.  Hilarious and tinged with thought-provoking commentary on motherhood, identity, and conforming.

Truly Madly Guilty, Lianne Moriarty – Another successful page-turner by Moriarty.  Like all of her books this one circles around an event which is a mystery until revealed.  It is more tragic and less salacious than I expected, but the outcome is heartening, the message optimistic.  Entertaining.

Siracusa, Delia Ephron – Riveting writing on an unsettling topic.  Europe, midlife, marriage, parenthood, trust and the breaking of it … there is so much in this novel.

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler – I love the writer’s voice and her beautiful, heartbreaking, raw depiction of young adulthood in New York.  I never lived in New York and I never waited tables, but even so, I found this book almost unputdownable.  A gorgeou way to close out the summer.

What have you read this summer that you recommend?  I want to hear!

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Summer 2016

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I think this is my favorite photo from the summer.  Sunset, no filter, July 4th, Marion, Massachusetts.

Summer 2016 was uneventful and calm until the end, when it was far too eventful.  June, July, and the first half of August held lots of family time and a bunch of no-child time and many books and runs.  Summer was a reminder of how deeply blessed I am on the friendship front, as I was lucky enough to spend time with some of the women I love the most in this world. It also reminded us of how fortunate we are, and of the line we walk on a daily basis.  Despite difficulty at the end of the summer, we turn into September more viscerally aware of our good fortune than before.

I suppose challenges have a way of reminding us of all that’s good.

June started out with coding camp for Whit, then had hockey camp for Grace (meet my children), and then they spent 3 weeks with my parents doing sailing and tennis.  Matt and I spent weekends down there.  What a privilege to spend long empty days with both my parents and my children.  We had a marvelous reunion with my sister, her husband, and daughters, and all four cousins on my side of the family were together.  Then Grace and Whit went off to sleepaway camp for 3.5 weeks.  Matt and I laid pretty low during this time, weekdays working and weekends at the ocean.  We played tennis, sailed, swam, and read a lot of books.

We had a magical dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jessica.  She, her husband, Matt, my parents, and I had a relaxed, happy, wine-soaked dinner.  We debated and discussed and laughed and reminisced.  I’m grateful beyond words for her company on this road, the truest kindred spirit I’ve ever met.  I just wish we saw each other more.

I spent a weekend in Shelter Island with two of my three college roommates.  This was our second annual visit and it was even more spectacularly wonderful than the last one.  We swam off a boat, we watched a thunderstorm roll in, we played with one roommate’s small children, we laughed so hard our stomachs hurt.

I read a lot of books, and will write a post about them shortly.  A lot of great fiction, as was my plan heading into the summer.

We had a week with Matt’s family in Vermont, which was joyful, exuberant, noisy, full of waterskiing and tubing.  Matt’s parents had all three sons and all six grandchildren together. A rare treat.

And then the summer ground to a quick, sudden halt.

Matt tore his hamstring severely while waterskiing. Then Whit was diagnosed with suspected Lyme and treated.  The last couple of weeks of August were not our best.  Matt had surgery on his hamstring (the injury was both significant and unusual).  He reacted poorly to the  drugs he was on after surgery and fainted not once but twice (both times I caught him) on the last day of August at home.  We had two 911 calls, and the second resulted in ambulance transport to the ER.  He was gray, clammy, and not fully awake.  I was very scared.  After many hours ruling lots of things out, they think he had a reaction to the medication, both anesthetic and pain killers.

Matt is resting quietly as I write this.  Our children are healthy and Whit’s responded well to his Lyme treatment.  I feel tired and deeply thankful at the same time.  I have Pam Houston in my mind:

I was breathless and frightened by the frailty of miracles, and full of the fact of our lives

I hope you are all entering fall with awareness of your blessings, many happy memories from the summer, and some good books under your belt. Beginning September full of the fact of your life.  I know I am.

 

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