you cannot turn away

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe
Thank you to my friend Suzanne, for sharing this marvelous quote with me.

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The friends who knew you when

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The P-Rade, Saturday afternoon of reunions, 1996

Tomorrow, I will go to my 20th college reunion.  Of course I feel the expected shock that it’s been 20 years, and time feels especially slippery right now: weren’t we just there, as students, in a fog of sunshine and beer and magnolia petals and senior theses and orange?  So much orange.  Yes we were just there, but it’s also been 20 years.

I’ve written a lot about the friends I met at Princeton.  They are the largest group of native speakers in my life, ground zero, the knot of truest friends I know.  I have called them the women who hold my stories, described the way we are sailing together, reflected on when the future felt like a bright ribbon unfurling in front of us, noted that friendship is made of attention.  I tried to capture those weeks of senior spring in words, a moment of my life that was as high-pitched and glorious as any I can recall since.

This is what I wrote, many years so, and it’s all still true today.  Things are different, yes: our children are older, we are older, and we have more wrinkles and more disappointment and, I think, more joy.  One thing will never change: you will always be the friends who were with me when I was really becoming who I am now.  There aren’t many friends who know the name of the first boy I kissed in college and the title of my thesis and when my grandmother died and the job I really wanted that I didn’t get and what I was wearing (not much) in the Nude Olympics.  As I wrote this post, a group text went around, and one friend on it threatened that “I have nude photos of most of you, just remember that.”  Touche.

There’s a reason college is called the most formative time of our life: that may not be true for everyone, but it certainly was for me.  The friends I knew in college shaped who I am today, and those marks are forever. I can’t wait to see you all.

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We all knew each other when we were becoming who we are now.  Knew each other before we were mothers and wives and partners at McKinsey.  Before we had real responsibilities, a smattering of wrinkles, and the occasional designer purse.  We’ve shared a lot in the 14 years since we graduated: marriages, divorces, the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe, births, deaths, book recommendations, surprises both joyful and heartbreaking.  We’ve visited each others’ brand new babies in the hospital and we have stood next to each other when we buried parents.  We were and are each others’ bridesmaids and the godmothers of each other’s children.

We hold each others’ stories, and that is a unique and privileged position.

I’m still struck dumb, honestly, by the fact that women as fantastic as these would hold me dear.  These are strong and intelligent and compassionate and beautiful and gentle and deeply human women, every single one of them.  I respect the choices they’ve made, whether they are similar to mine or different, and I know I can trust them to be gentle with my decisions.   With these women, I am as comfortable as I am anywhere else in the world.  In their light, I am brave, not shy.

I think, again, of the powerful Adrienne Rich (of whow these women remind me, because I wrote my college thesis on her) and of the line “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.”  We sit down together, we weep, we laugh, and we are all warriors.  All in our own way.  But we are safe together.

One of our favorite things to do is to sit around and look at old pictures.  Pathetic, maybe.  Entertaining, absolutely.  For one of our annual weekends, I scanned hundreds of pictures and brought a slideshow.  I’m sure there will be hundreds of pictures from this weekend to add to the pile.  I can’t wait.

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Happy Birthday

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Twice a year, I write about this man.  Who is otherwise generally spared.  I have to protect some things, after all!  But today is his birthday, and on this and our anniversary, (9/9) I turn my lens onto him.

This is the 19th of your birthdays we’ve celebrated together, Matt.

The first one, I was heading to my sister’s college graduation, and you drove me somewhere (I can’t recall where) and told me you loved me for the first time as I left.  I’ll never forget the butterflies and elation that filled me when I heard you say that.

The third, my sister-in-law and I surprised you and your twin with a party to celebrate 30.  You had pulled an all-nighter at work and were pretty exhausted.  I think you were happy, though.  We were months away from getting married.

The fifth, we had a small gathering at our then-new house.  My pregnancy belly popped, I swear, that morning.  The change was sufficiently marked that one of my friends walked in the door and noted that the baby had decided to show up on his or her father’s birthday.

The eighth, we had another party with your twin and his family, this time at their home.  We had a baby at home, and a 2 year old, and I remember you thinking the college-aged bartender was very cute.  We have some rowdy photographs from that night.

The tenth, we celebrated with a dinner in the backyard of our house, and a small round cake with a single table candle in the middle.  A pigtailed Grace helped you blow that candle out.

The eleventh, we spent in Bermuda with your twin and his wife.  You two bought black knee socks and Bermuda shorts and wore them to one of the most delicious meals I have ever had.

The thirteenth, I surprised you again with a small dinner at one of our favorite restaurants with some of our most beloved friends.  It was a night I’ll never forget.  We drank a lot of Matt & Stormy’s.  There were toasts.  I wore orange.  You were happy.

The fifteenth, we spent with our dear family friends in New Hampshire, on a weekend that has become a cherished tradition.  We took an Olde Tyme photograph of all the children.  You blew out candles, alongside members of the other two families who share your birthday week.  Grace was in a sling with a broken collarbone.

The eighteenth, we were back in New Hampshire with the same friends.  We helped build a house.  We took another Olde Tyme photograph.  There was another cake with candles for three birthday people.  There were lilacs everywhere, and my memories are tinged with their smell.

This year the nineteenth, we’ll celebrate with with Whit’s baseball game, and, tomorrow, a family dinner.  I’ll bake a cake.  It will be the most ordinary, and therefore, the most extraordinary.  As is every day.

Thank you for all the varied and marvelous roles you play in my life and those of Grace and Whit.  You are a thoughtful question-asker, an improving bed-maker (though still a sub-par laundry-folder), an excellent hockey coach, extremely handy around the house (proven this weekend with the stove saga), an enthusiastic married-in Princeton reunion-er, an avid reader infuriatingly resistant to my book recommendations, and a world-class maker of bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches.  You are willing to curl into a bottom bunk to read, to encourage a child to go up a mast, to explain how a sport or technology works, to listen when I repeat myself, to tolerate my moods, to be there.  Thank you.

Previous happy birthday posts to Matt are here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

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everything is more complicated

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.

– Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

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Regret

I suspect we can all agree that regret is one of the most toxic of the emotions.  It is both paralyzing and, fundamentally, useless.  I have my share of regrets, but lately I’ve been thinking about how there are certain things that I never regret and others that I always regret.  And even though I know these things about myself – surefire ways to feel good, surefire ways to feel bad – I sometimes struggle to act on them.  Why is that?  Is inertia that powerful?  I suspect that’s a big part of it.

The other day I started thinking about the various actions that I know cause regret, and those that never do.  I wanted to specifically name them, both because I’m interested in what these things are for you and because I hope it might help me remind myself of the value of choosing things from the first list and avoiding those from the second.

Things I never regret:

Going to yoga
Going to bed
Going for a run (or exercise of any kind)
Meditating (5 minutes is my max, so don’t be too impressed)

Things I always regret:

That last glass of wine (it’s been a while since I was in this situation, truthfully)
Opening the bag of jelly beans, or anything super sugary
Talking about myself in a social setting
Pity parties

What are things that you always, and never, regret?

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one big glorious swirl

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The world is in riotous bloom.  We are reminded at every turn of beginnings, fecundity, growth.  The days are long and warm, and summer glints on the horizon, and everywhere I look there are bare legs and smiles.  This is the height of spring: dizzy, jubilant, glorious.

But I can’t stop experiencing lasts.  In the past couple of weeks, I have attended my last Lower School spring concert, performed my last tooth fairy duties for my older child, watched our household’s last World’s Fair poster board come together.  Last, last, last.  Time is whipping by so fast I can barely breathe.

Last week, I drove by a large tent at Boston University, which I assume is for graduation, and I think of how the way that the reunions tents going up at Princeton was a visceral harbinger of the end of year.  I used to watch them putting up fences and tents with a tangible sense of loss: those wooden and canvas structures were a threshold between now and then, between the present and the future, and I was forced across it.  The peaks of white canvas tents will always spell the ending of something to me.  Even as they mark the biggest beginning of all, that of commencement.

I’ve written about commencement a lot before.  Living in a university town, this time of year, it’s impossible to avoid.  In 2013 I asked if it was just another word for what might be the “central preoccupation of my life.”  The ways that endings and beginnings are wound around each other, inextricable, enriching one another even as they seem opposed, opposite: this is one of the themes I return to again and again, there’s no question about that.

The other night, Grace lost her last tooth.  Her last baby tooth.  She’s over 13.5, so this is not a last that should surprise me, and she’s late to lose it.  But still.  Still.  I went in before bed to take the tooth and to put tooth fairy money under her pillow, and she woke up as I did so.  Her eyes popped open and she whispered, “What are you doing?”

“Just saying goodnight,” I said quickly, holding the pouch with her tooth that I’d taken from under her pillow but not yet opened down by the floor on which I was kneeling.  A slow grin spread across her face.

“You sure about that?” she asked with a sly smile.  I burst out laughing.  I know she doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy.  She hasn’t for years.  This humorous young woman makes me laugh so much.  I adore her.  Do I miss the much younger girl, the small child who slept, under whose pillow I slid the first couple of tooth fairy dollars?  Of course I do.  But I don’t want to go back: I love right now.

Kunitz’s feast of losses, which I’ve also written about ad nauseum, runs through my head at this time of year.  Grace doesn’t have any more baby teeth.  Whit doesn’t have any more spring concerts.  His class sang sang several songs, but my favorite was Seasons of Love, from Rent, which I have long loved (and have often thought about writing about!).

We will head to Princeton at the end of next week to celebrate my 20th reunion (where we will take advantage of those great fences and tents whose arrival marked the end of my undergraduate year).  It is my first reunion in my life where my grandfather won’t be there.  I didn’t know the reunion in 2011, when I walked with him, was the last.

There is so much beauty and so much loss.  There is laughter in the dark with my teenage daughter just an hour after holding her last baby tooth in my hand.  There are tears in the lower school gym as my son, now the Big Kid on the stage, dances to Soul Man and then to a song from Rent which reminds me of college.  There is aggravation that the Ecuador presentation doesn’t seem ready, and in the wake of that irritation, I feel simultaneously thankful that Jesus this is the last time and mad at myself for not fully appreciating this, the last time I’ll hear a child practice their 5th grade presentation.

Still, then tinges now, and no matter what I do, I can’t run away from the shadow of loss the haunts every single moment of this life.  The magnolias bloom but even as my head spins with their gorgeous beauty I know how transient it is, and preemptively mourn the brown puddles they’ll be on the sidewalk in a matter of days.

Teeth, concerts, presentations.  Commencement, graduation gowns, canvas tents.  My friends, my grandfather, my children.  It’s all one big, glorious swirl, this life, alleluia and farewell, loss and beginning, love and tears.  Every single day.

 

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wresting wisdom and joy

Hope is an orientation, an insistence on wresting wisdom and joy from the endlessly fickle fabric of space and time.

– Krista Tippett

Thank you to Courtney Martin, in whose Twitter feed I found this gem.

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Thank you

Thank you.

I feel intensely aware lately of how grateful I am that anyone’s reading here.  I mean that.  It’s been a difficult few monthsthat’s not a secret – and the steadfast comments here often make my day(s).

Thank you, thank you.

If you ever doubt that small actions make a huge difference, don’t.

I’m writing this the day after getting home on a redeye flight.  I don’t sleep well in general, and I really don’t sleep well on planes.  For example: Matt and I flew to Bali for our honeymoon and I didn’t sleep a wink (I wrote all of our thank you notes instead).  So, I’m tired.  It’s gray out, and rainy, and I’m exhausted, and feeling spent all around.

And yet.  And still.

There’s the beauty of the world, yes: the budding trees, the song of a sparrow in a bush, the smudge of orange on the horizon at sunset, the laugh of a child.  But there’s also so much kindness here, so much that reminds me that life is good, and that’s what I’m particularly thankful for today.

Every single message from someone who reads that lets me know that something I said resonates means so much to me.  I mean that.  Every comment, every retweet, everything.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I’m more thankful than I can express for the solidarity and the I’m-not-alone feeling I get from every gesture.  It always means a lot to me, but even more right now.

I appreciate you.  Thank you.

 

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Thoughts on Mother’s Day

When I was growing up Mother’s Day wasn’t really a thing in our family.  I’ll be honest that I still don’t love it as a holiday – feels a little contrived to me. And the truth is what I really want on “my” day is a regular day (perhaps this is a midlife thing, like my 40th birthday realization that all I wanted was more of this).  So while the construct of Mother’s Day isn’t my favorite, motherhood – and daughterhood – is my favorite subject, without question. So I was shared some photographs and thoughts on Instagram this weekend, about mothers, children, and godmothers.  I wanted to collect them here, as a record of sorts of this weekend, of the waves of love I felt for the people in my family (that I was born into and made as well as that I chose in my dearest friends).

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The women who flank me, my mother and my daughter, on the first day they met (10/26/02). Grace is about an hour old. Everything I know about motherhood and mothers and daughters, I learned from them.

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On the eve of Mother’s Day I have godmothers – my own and those of my children – on my mind. This photo is of my godsisters and me, many years ago (please admire the charcoal starter right near us – oh, 70s! And, a mystery: why I’m not dressed). Their mothers – and they – remain very dear to me, as do the friends in my adult life who are an extended family to my own children. This photograph is on the board above my desk and I look at it every day. Just had a drink tonight with my oldest friend (well, tied with these two, photographed here). We met when I was 3 weeks old and he was 7 weeks old, and we grew up together. His mother was my Fairy Godmother, a true second mother (for example when I came out of anesthesia at age 10, it was she, and not my biological mother, holding my hand in the recovery room). Tonight, I’m intensely aware of the web of friends-who-are-family who have carried me for many years and I’m so grateful.

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The first photo after Grace was born (well, the fourth, but within 30 seconds and the first I want to share here). Motherhood is the defining role of my life. It took me a while to feel that way, though, and I can’t help but think today of those long, exhausted, tearful first months, defined by colic (hers, though maybe also mine) and postpartum depression (mine, though maybe also hers). There are as many definitions and visions of motherhood as there are mothers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s something I feel strongly about saying out loud. There are so many mothers who inspire me – starting with my own, of course – women I know in person and online, writers, poets, teachers, investors, managers, consultants, yogis, PTA presidents, stay-at-home moms (often more than one of these identifiers fits), mothers of six or zero biological children, women of 30 and women of 90. I’m grateful for them all today. Tagging many mothers who inspire me. Hope you’ll do the same.

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This isn’t a holiday I much care for, but motherhood (and daughterhood) in all its shapes and permutations is my favorite subject. Closing out the day with these two, the people I love most. Grace and Whit, being your mother is the most important thing in my life. You teach me every day, about love and empathy and humanity and patience and music.ly and how long it takes to get to Mars. You exhaust, frustrate, bewilder, and astonish me, and you have shown me what love really is. I’m grateful for every single day I get to spend as your mother. It is an incandescent privilege and I hope never to take a moment of it for granted. You’re my alpha and my omega, my sun, my moon, and all my stars, and I am prouder of you both than I can ever express.

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who do what has to be done, again and again


The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

– Marge Piercy

I love, love, love this poem which I’d never read before seeing it on Katie Noah Gibson’s beautiful blog.

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