Things I Love Lately

Raising Dudes that are Manly in All the Right Ways – This piece on the Good Men Project is resonant for me in general, and in particular right now as I think about the fact that my son has lost two grandfathers in two months.  My husband, and his father, is a good (great) man and I know he’s paying close attention, but this feels like a particularly salient list right now.

Books I’m Giving this Holiday Season – I write a post like this every year but this year it got a little lost in the shuffle of my Real Life.  My father loved books, and I know I inherited my passion for them from him, so it feels appropriate to re-share this now.

Little Fires Everywhere – I loved Celeste Ng’s book and will review it more fulsomely before long.  This story is entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time, as well as beautifully written.

OK, fine.  I’m not loving a lot lately.  I’m sorry.  It’s been a difficult few weeks in an already-difficult season.  But I would really welcome your suggestions for things I should read, watch, or listen to over the holiday break.  What are you loving lately?

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

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To a Daughter Leaving Home

More than a few people sent me this poem when Grace was leaving for school, which was lovely.  I’ve long known and loved it, and it feels particularly poignant right now, right after the first week that she was home since leaving.  And you know what?  I miss her – we all do – but it is so clear she’s in the right place.  These last weeks have been very challenging for us all, but even in the midst of that, I know she’s okay, which is a huge gift.

(I wrote this before my father died, so there has been a huge rupture since, but the sentiment is still true).

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping,
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

-Linda Pastan

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Kirtland Chase Mead

June 9, 1943 – November 26, 2017

Remembrance from my father’s memorial service, December 3, 2017

I am Lindsey, Kirt and Susan’s older daughter. Thank you for being here today to celebrate my father’s life. There is a line in Steinbeck’s East of Eden in which the characters lament the coming death of their beloved father. How could they think of anything without knowing what he thought about it? This is exactly how I felt about my father my entire life. All that mattered was what he thought. Dad’s has always been the voice I hear in my head, and I suspect – and hope – that never changes.

Dad was, as we said in the obituary, a Renaissance man. He was a man of towering intellect, occasional gruffness, and, perhaps, less well-known but equally importantly, hilariously apt one-liners. Two that come to mind for me often are his assertion that “there are two words that separate us from the animals: may and well.” I have taken that particular adage to heart and think of it every time my children respond to “how are you?” with “I’m well.”

Another thing Dad said often that’s come to mean a lot was his repeated comment to his daughters: “I’m sorry, you must be mistaking this for a democracy.” As a child, of course, that sentence drove me nuts. As a parent, I think he was onto something.

Dad had unapologetically high standards. When I graduated from Princeton magna cum laude, his first words to me were “what happened to summa?” Sometimes his demand and expectation of excellence felt onerous, but most of the time it inspired me. He was invariably curious about my life – asking each and every time I saw him about Grace, Whit, and Matt, the new company I founded this year with wonderful partners, and my writing, usually in that order. He told me often, and recently, how proud he was of Grace and Whit (the expression he used, just last week, was “is there anything they can’t do?”). It’s a gift to be so certain of his love and esteem, and I know it.

My father was an engineer. He had a master’s degree in Physics, a PhD in Engineering, and an abiding trust in the ability of science, logic, and measurement to explain the world. At the same time, he had a deep fascination with European history and culture, often manifested in a love of the continent’s cathedrals. His unshakeable faith in the life of the rational mind was matched by his profound wonder at the power of the ineffable, the territory of religious belief and cultural experience, that which is beyond the intellect.

I grew up in the space between these worlds. This gave me an instinctive understanding that two things that appear paradoxical, like these beliefs, can be both totally opposed and utterly intertwined. From my father I learned that at the outmost limits of science, where the world and its phenomena can be understood and categorized with equations and with right and wrong answers, there flits the existence of something less discernible. The finite and the infinite are not as distinct as we might think, and the way they bleed together enriches them both.

My Dad, who had a three-ring binder full of mathematical derivations he had done for fun (in fountain pen), also stood next to me in cathedrals in Italy, looking up at stained glass windows with frank reverence on his face. For all of his stubborn rationality and fierce belief that everything can be explained, he also always suspected, I think, that some things could not. In fact I think for my father, despite how trained and steeped he was in the language of equations, proofs and derivations, the parts of the human experience that cannot be captured by the empirical were the most meaningful.

This contradiction existed in how he thought about sailing, too, the other primary through-line of his life. Sailing was about careful navigation, measurement, and the angles between water, sail, and wind. And yet at the same time sailing was for Dad about something far less tangible, a fleeting and effervescent way of being in the world, an ability to sense and feel the boat and to make infinitessimal adjustments that made the boat move more smoothly and faster. I often told Dad that he was the person with whom I felt safest on the water, and this is true despite some very bumpy sails. His favorite point of sail was to windward. There was both precision and something far greater guiding my Dad’s hand on the tiller.

There are so many things Dad taught me that I can’t possibly list them, but this was his greatest gift: the belief that there is meaning beyond that which we can prove, and that a life of celebrating that can be a rich one indeed.

Dad often quoted Peter Pan, and his cry “Second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning!” Dad’s with the stars now, and I’ll remember that every time I look up at the night sky that he so recently explored with us. I think of Grace, Whit, and Dad standing in the street in Marion viewing Venus when it was visible two summers ago. One of my dear friends from college emailed me after Dad died about how he was “part of the firmament,” as a way of conveying her shock at his loss. I loved that image, and one morning this week driving to the bus I asked Whit to look up the formal definition of firmament. It is “the heavens or the sky.” So I think he’s still – maybe even more – a part of the firmament now.

I wish you fair winds and following seas, Dad. And I thank you.


Two photos of my children and my father that I love

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Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,
   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.
   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;
   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson
For many years I’ve known that my father wanted this read at his memorial service.  On Sunday, it will be.

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Books I’m Giving this Holiday Season

I believe books are the best present and they often make up a large part of the gifts I give.  For the last several years, I’ve written about the books I plan to give during the upcoming holiday. My previous posts are here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.  I used to share ideas “for children’ and “for adults” but as my children, and many of the children I know get older, the lines are blurrier.  So, this year, my list in no particular order.  I’d love to hear what books you plan to gift this year!

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1)– Philip Pulllman.  It’s no secret that I’m a huge Pullman fan (fun fact: so is R.J. Palacio: Auggie Pullman in Wonder is named for him) and I can’t wait to read this new book (the first of three) which revists Lyra, the intrepid, compelling heroine of the The Golden Compass.

Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves – Kate T. Parker. One of Grace’s godmothers gave her this book and she and I were both smitten.  Inspirational, strong, powerful, this book is an affirmation for anyone – girl, boy, adult, child – that being ourselves is the most beautiful, and most important, thing.

Artemis – Andy Weir.  For any fan of The Martian, this is a must-read.  I loved Andy Weir’s first novel (and love the story of how it came to be, with his self-publication followed by enormous success followed by traditional publishing taking notice). I plan to read this after Whit undoubtedly tears through it.

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery – Scott Kelly. I found this book, of Kelly’s journey from childhood in New Jersey to a year in the International Space Station, as riveting as the photographs he tweeted from space. A marvelous book for anyone in your life who is interested in space, exploration, and the human race pushing the boundaries of the known.

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green. Grace and I will have to take turns with John Green’s much-anticipated and awaited new novel.  He can do no wrong as far as she (and I) are concerned.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver, my favorite poet.  This beautiful collection is a perfect gift for a friend who doesn’t yet know of Mary Oliver’s luminous poetry, or for someone who is just beginning to discover her. Or, really, for anyone.

I’m the One Who Got Away – Andrea Jarrell’s.  Jarrell’s first book, a slender memoir, reads with the urgency of a freight train.  In spare, beautiful prose, she writes about how we live with and move past our childhoods, in her case a particularly challenging one.  I can’t stop thinking about this beautiful book.

Saints for All Occasions – Courtney Sullivan.  I’ve established that I didn’t read much meaningful fiction this year, but Sullivan’s engrossing, compassionate novel about family, loyalty, secrets, and identity is one I keep recommending.  The Washington Post just named it one of the 10 best of the year, so I’m not alone in loving this story!

The Burning Girl – Claire Messud.  I also loved Messud’s novel, and have been mentioning it along with Saints to everyone who asks what I’ve read recently.  Her story, about the treacherous road girls can travel from adolescence to adulthood, has stayed with me.

Full disclosure: the links are Amazon affilitate links.

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we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

– W. S. Merwin

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Thanksgiving and the fullness of life

This is always a poignant time of year, and this year it feels more so than usual.  I wrote last year about Thanksgiving 2002, when Matt’s father had his heart transplant, when the course of our family’s life bent permanently.  Last year Matt’s whole family gathered to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, which was also the 14th anniversary of his transplant.  It was a gathering none of us will ever forget.

Of course things are very different this year.  Matt’s father is gone, and his sudden departure has punched a big hole in all of our lives.  On Wednesday we’ll gather with his family, and on Thursday with mine. I can’t stop thinking of that morning in 2002, with our colicky newborn in the back of the car and my father-in-law still in a coma at Mass General.  I can’t stop thinking of Thanksgivings in Vermont, before that, when Matt woke up before dawn to go hunting with his father and brothers.  I can’t stop thinking of last year, and the spectacular Florida sunrises, and the heartfelt toasts to mark 50 years.  The memories feel thick and close this week, sharp, vivid.  The people who are gone feel near, and I wonder, as I often do, where they are.  There’s so much I wonder about death, so many questions I have, both metaphorical and literal.

I wrote on Instagram last week of how this year I’m particularly aware of the losses that 2017 has brought to us.  Of course, there have been many beginnings, too. We began this year with a strong sense of optimism, aware that 2016 had been a difficult year, and the first months were full of good news.  Then, of course, came some bad news and some endings, Matt’s father’s death the most significant by a mile of a longer list.  We come to the end of this year in a more reflective mode than we began it, but perhaps that is a normal rhythm.  It strikes me that it probably is.

As the ghosts and memories swirl around me, what I feel, more than anything, is gratitude. I feel privileged to have lived those moments, even the difficult ones, and to have known and loved (and been loved by) the people who are no longer here.  I feel thankful for the family who remains, who hold some of the same memories I do.  I feel a tangible sense of honor to be on this earth, taking pictures and writing about my experience, looking at the sky, loving my family.

Kunitz’s words, “how shall the heart be reconciled/to its feast of losses?” run through my head.  How to honor what is gone while also remembering what has begun?  That is the task of these weeks for me. I feel thankful in a newly deep way, a gratitude shaded by the awareness of life’s losses and heartbreak.  Maybe this is adulthood: an elegy for what is gone and a song of celebration for what is at the same time.

I think what I’m saying is that as I get older, difficulty and glory are more closely intertwined, the light and the dark of life more inextricable.  Every joy is striated with awareness of sorrow, but the reverse is true, also. That’s either the most depressing thing I’ve ever written or the truest, I don’t know which. Maybe it’s both. But this period of my life is marked by a simultaneous embrace of what is – of thanks for what still is, in some cases – and the aching, echoing reminder of what was.

As I write these words it occurs to me that I am talking about nothing less than holding the fullness of life.  The losses and the beginnings, the heartbreak and the beauty, the mundane and the magical. All of it, all the time, simultaneous, bittersweet, dazzling.  Life itself.




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We need you

You’re not too much. You probably haven’t shown the world nearly enough. We need you to be your strong, imperfect, direct, funny, brash, hilarious, sometimes intimidating self. We need you to surround yourself with people who don’t need to diminish you in order to feel more secure. We need your ideas, your vision, your leadership, your presence… all of it, 120 proof. If we need a chaser after being around you, that’s up to us to figure that out.

-Steve Wiens, An Ode to the Women Who Are “Too Much

I may be shy, but I’ve also been told more times than I can count to take it down a notch, that I’m too intense, that I need to stop taking everything so personally.  I’ve been offered unasked-for feedback more than once.  I say sorry too much, and so does my daughter. I love this short piece and am sharing it with her.

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what we do every day

What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while. – Gretchen Rubin

If this blog has a theme (and it doesn’t, as I’ve established), it would likely be wonder, but close behind that is a preoccupation with daily-ness, with the small activities, thoughts, and emotions that make up our days and therefore our lives.  I think at least daily of the quote that last year’s family holiday card featured: “How we spend our days, is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

Or of the salient reminder that  “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (I’ve seen this ascribed to Aristotle, Cicero, and others, so I’m not sure precisely who to attribute it to).

I also like the Gretchen Rubin’s assertion of the importance of what we do every day. So I’ve been thinking about what I do every (or most) day(s).  And, conversely, what I rarely do.  Just as I think we can look at a week or a month of our lives and view our time allocation as a map of what matters to us, I think we can draw conclusions about what we care about through looking carefully at what we do (and do not) do regularly.

Every day I read, most days I exercise, every day I work, every day I spend time with Matt, Grace, and Whit, most days I text or email with a small circle of dear friends and family. Every day I brush my teeth, every day I change into pajamas at the earliest opportunity (sometimes in the morning if I’m working at home), most days I cook for my family, most days I do laundry. Most days I take pictures of the sky, some days at sunset.

Rarely I go out, rarely I talk on the phone for personal reasons (though I do all day for work), rarely I watch TV

What do these small, mundane acts say about my priorities?  I think they say my family, my work, and our home comes first.  I think they say that I’m an introvert who prefers my pajamas to a night out.  I think they say sometimes I need to work harder to get exposure to the wide world out there.

I’m comfortable with what my priorities look like when I stare in the mirror, when I map out what I do every day, how I spend my days, how I spend my life. Far from perfect, but entirely aligned with my values.

What do you do every day, and what do you do rarely?  Do you like what these answers say about what you value?

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dead reckoning

So we navigate mostly by dead reckoning, and deduction from what clues we find.

-Robert Pirsig, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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