I adore this post by Gretchen Rubin in which she names her patron saints.
I’ve been thinking a lot about who my patron saints are. I find this exercise quite difficult! A few who come to mind quickly:
Annie Dillard – observant, grateful, wise
Anne Lamott – funny, irreverent, prolific
Georgia O’Keeffe – fierce, brave, celebrator of femininity and of the sky
Joan of Arc – intrepid, heroic, certain
Marie Curie – brilliant, fearless, possessed of power and wounds that came from the same source
Who are your patron saints?
I’ve written before that parenthood has contained more surprises than I can count. This is true. There’s no question that the most startling thing for me is how loss is contained in being a mother. I did not at all anticipate how bittersweet parenting would be. Every single day makes me cry. Every single day also makes me laugh, and smile, and ride waves of joy. The oscillation between these two poles – and their occasional co-existence in a single moment – takes my breath away on a regular basis.
Another of motherhood’s big surprises for me is the number of thing that happened all at once. There were many parts of childhood that I assumed would be gradual processes that were, instead, totally overnight events. For example:
Riding a bike.
All of these things I figured would happen slowly, with fits and starts, in spurts. Two steps forward, one step back style. Instead, in all of those cases, it was basically binary. One day Grace was rolling from one side of the kitchen to the other in her determination to get somewhere, the next she was standing wobbily next to the couch, holding on with two clutched fists, and the next she was off to the races. The same with biking. And with reading.
By the way, this works in reverse, too. Some things I thought would be instantaneous – notably, feeling like I was a mother, and, frankly feeling like I was an adult – were instead gradual.
Time is playing its fast-slow-instant-slow motion tricks on me right now, too. All at once I have a teenager.
Grace will be thirteen three weeks from today. It’s such a cliche, but man, it’s also the true-est true thing: how is this possible? She was a colicky newborn five seconds ago, and now she’s almost my height, wears bigger shoes than I do, and is turning into a young woman so fast my head is spinning. There’s nothing gradual about this moment. Even as I write that, I sense how ludicrous it is: after all I’ve hard thirteen years to prepare for having a thirteen year old. Yet it happened when I blinked. As Gretchen Rubin says, the days are long but the years are short. Another true-est of the true adage.
Do you know what I mean? Are some things that you thought would be slow in fact sudden, and vice versa?
I’d have to stare at them all night to take them in. It’s tempting. I plant a kiss on each of their heads. It will never be enough. A lifetime of kisses would not fill the space in me that belongs to them. In the morning, when they come for me before the sun is up, begging me to get up and insisting that they’re starving, I will search again for the feeling I have this moment, this sacred calm to stand against the day’s obligations and terrors that conspire to blow disappearing dust over all that I know to be true right now.
– Laura Nicole Diamond, Shelter Us
Thank you, Kathie, for giving me this beautiful book for my birthday!
I’ve been a quote collector since May 23, 1985 (I was 10). Interestingly, May 23 is Matt’s birthday. A coincidence that I began my very first quote book (the one on top) on that day, years and years before I knew my future husband? Perhaps, perhaps not.
I opened Cheryl Strayed’s new book, Brave Enough, and was in tears by page four. Infinite thanks to the peerless Liz Egan for sending me an advance copy (have you read Liz’s gorgeous first novel, A Window Opens? YOU MUST). In the introduction to Brave Enough, Strayed mentions that her own passionate quote habit began with a line from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light (a quote that I assure you lives in that top book): “Maybe you have to know darkness before you can appreciate the light.” She then goes on to refer to a long first-time labor and Ram Dass’s seminal exhortation to be here now, a phrase I’ve often described as the tattoo I would get if I ever got a tattoo.
By the time the brief introduction was over, I knew I was in the company of my people. I mean, I guess I knew that already, and part of Cheryl Strayed’s immense power is her ability to resonate like that with so, so many readers. But still. I loved this book. She says that “quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!” and asserts that Brave Enough “aims to be a book of yes.”
And oh, is it. Spoiler alert if you’re on my holiday gift-giving list: this book is getting ordered in bulk and going under a lot of trees. It’s inspiring and reassuring and comforting and lovely. I laughed and I cried reading the short, powerful quotes on Brave Enough’s pages. I wish it was twice as long, but of course the fact that Strayed has culled her extensive repertoire of quotable writing to these few gems is part of what makes it glitter so fiercely.
It is hard to pick favorites, but here are some of the short passages that spoke most directly to me. I hope you’ll buy and read Brave Enough, a book which reminds us of the power of words. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses and sorrow, but because of them, that you would not have chosen the things that happened in your life, but you are grateful for them, that you will hold the empty bowls eternally in your hands, but you also have the capacity to fill them? The word for that is healing.
Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with witting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our lives, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there. Acceptance speaks in the gentlest voice. It commands only that we acknowledge what’s true.
Trust that all you’ve learned was worth learning, no matter what answer you have or do not have about what practical use it is in your life. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into the crazy beauty that awaits.
I was with 15 of my college friends this weekend. This was our sixth annual weekend together, and women travelled from as far away as London and San Francisco to meet on the east coast. It was, as I knew it would be, magical. I’ve written about this group of women and this weekend in particular several times before:
These women are my safe place, my native speakers, the friends who have known me since I was becoming who I am. They were my bridesmaids and are the godmothers of my children, they have known my husband basically as long as I have, they know the title of my senior thesis, the embarrassing crush I had freshman year, and the lyrics to lots of Indigo Girls and Toad the Wet Sprocket songs. They possess the only known photograph taken of me smoking a cigarette and (maybe hazy) memories of experiences like eating club bicker, the Nude Olympics, and lots of robo-pound games.
We are all mothers, which is something that makes me deeply happy and extraordinarily grateful. Together the 16 of us have 34 children, ranging in age from 13 to 2 months. There’s no question that rain has fallen into many of our lives. And more and more, our visits together feel like brief pools of golden light, oases of love in lives full of obligations and joys. Increasingly I find myself able to surrender to these moments, to the fact that while life doesn’t stop, it can wait. Friendship is made of attention, as I mused last year, and this weekend we were the focus of each others’. These women, and the long years of history and loyalty we have to one another, are in many ways a mystery that I will never comprehend. We cannot understand the heart of another, no matter how we try. I know this now, and I’m no longer trying to. Instead I’m releasing myself to the unknown, letting it hold me up, bowing in gratitude for what is essential to my life even as I recognize how little I understand it.
The words of an online friend ran through my mind all weekend. I read Rudri Patel’s gloriously beautiful post, Recognizing the Vastness, before I went last week. I was deeply moved by her acknowledgement of the power of our attention, of the active choice that is celebrating what is instead of languishing in what is not, and of the decision to let the mystery be unknown. Rudri talks about how the sky has “become a compass and each time when I look up there is a new kind of welcome, a serenade of the twists of what I recognize and what is wholly uncertain. The accompanying feeling is one that I don’t understand entirely, but recognize as an epiphany of some kind. I am not meant to comprehend the mystery, but sink into appreciation, instead of understanding the details.”
It strikes me that this mystery lives equally in the sky and in the faces of my friends, in their familiar handwriting and the familiar stories we laugh over together, in the blue eyes of my brand-new goddaughter (the daughter of Whit’s godmother) and in the ease with which we fall back into each other’s company. Big and small, people and nature, laughter and tears. All of it.
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way.
– John Ruskin
Thank you to Hilary for sharing this beautiful passage with me.
A Teacup in a Leotard – I love all of Annie Flavin’s work, but this piece really took my breath away. It exhorts us to put our technology away, to listen to our children, and to recognize all the ways that “prayer” can look in the world. “People may find a bright side, and there may be an actual bright side, but that does not eliminate the dark side. It is still not easy. It is still not fun. It can be lonely.” Amen to this.
Limiting All – Amanda Magee is another writer whose work I love, always, every single word. Sometimes I think she and I are the same soul living in different bodies. This post resonated even more than many. This paragraph right here took my breath away: “We can’t keep every single thing that we collect or sustain an impenetrable awareness of value. I cannot be entirely childlike or perfectly adult; it’s why each chunk of life is so beautiful and maddening. Time softens what we remember, yearning polishes what we don’t yet have, but in between, if we allow it, we can let the corners touch.”
I read My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese (based on Brettne’s excellent advice) and loved it. I’ve long been extremely drawn to doctor-writers (Oliver Sacks, of course, and Atul Gawande are among my favorites). In my childhood dreams of my life I was always a doctor. Verghese’s memoir of being a small town doctor as the AIDS epidemic arrives in America is compelling and, of course, beautifully told.
I’m about to finish Rebecca Stead’s wonderful Goodbye Stranger and am looking forward to Grace reading it too. I love the middle school voices in Stead’s book and was impressed with how delicately she handles the complicated issues of self esteem, friendship, and social media. I really can’t wait to hear what Grace thinks.
In August, Matt and I started watching Orange is the New Black. I’m not sure why I resisted so long. We’re now midway through season 2 (no spoilers please!) and I really like it. Terrifically smart writing. Funny and wise with a deep undercurrent of melancholy about the state of race in America and the prison system.
The soundtrack of right now is mostly Top 40 – a lot of Taylor Swift, Cheerleader, Renegades, and Stitches. Just a couple of weeks ago I was driving three 7th grade girls and one 5th grade boy from hockey practice in the evening and we spent the entire 20 minute drive belting out songs along with the radio. They were unself-conscious and joyful and so was I. I’ll never forget it.
What are you reading, watching, listening to, and thinking about these days?
I write these Things I Love Lately posts approximately monthly. You can find the others all here.
When I was in sixth grade, a school unit on orienteering culminated in an afternoon field trip to a local nature preserve. Both classes rode together on the battle-scarred yellow school bus. When we arrived we were split into teams of two, each of which was given a laminated map and a compass. Our map was marked with seven spots. A teacher was stationed at each spot, ready to stamp the card each pair carried. The winning team would make it to all seven spots and return back to where we started first.
My memories of the day are somewhat blurry – I don’t recall who my partner was specifically, for example – but what happened I recall with crystalline clarity.
My partner and I blazed through the first six marks and were, according to the teacher there, the first to reach it. As the sun blazed its late-fall glory overhead, he and I discussed how to get to mark seven and assure our victory. In contrast to the slurry of my memory of this day is how vividly I recall the cornflower blue of the sky and the quality of the late afternoon’s light. We huddled together, heads touching over our laminated map, and saw two options. The first was a long, circuitous path. The second was much shorter, as the crow flies. The only hitch was it was through an area of cross-hatching marked as “uncrossable swamp.”
There was very little debate. We were sure we could cross the swamp. Surely it couldn’t really be uncrossable. We set off. The reeds were tall, and it quickly felt like they closed above our heads. A long time later a teacher, complete with flashlight and bell, had to come and find us in the swamp. We emerged red-faced and embarrassed and came in last.
I never ignored the map again.
I share this (the story of which was the first chapter of a long-put-aside memoir called A Country Without Maps) today because Grace is doing a seventh grade field trip that includes some work with a compass. It feels awfully similar. With a now-familiar sensation, time plays tricks and I tumble down the telescope of memory.
I have not told Grace about the uncrossable swamp. If there is one, today or any other day, she needs to learn that lesson herself.
They lay next to each other and listened to the rain.
So life hasn’t turned out right for either of us, not the way we expected, he said.
Except it feels good now, at this moment.
Better than I have reason to believe I deserve, he said.
Oh, you deserve to be happy. Don’t you believe that?
I believe that’s how it’s turned out, for the last couple of months. For whatever reason.
– Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night