even so

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

-Raymond Carver, Late Fragment

Thank you to my friend Anne for sending this short video, which ends with reference to this poem, one of my favorites.  This is not the first time I’ve shared it, but I think it’s worth reading again.

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What passes and what endures

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Swinging on Christmas Day at the park near our house where Grace and Whit basically grew up. Something about this picture speaks to me of what passes, and of what abides.  And of trying to capture a child – a life – in motion, which is what I try to do here, and which I realize is fundamentally impossible. 

I’ve been thinking lately about what passes, and, conversely, but also, about what endures.  I’ve written before about the notion of this too shall pass, and about how often that is true.

Also, this fall I heard Tennyson’s lines in my head often: though much is taken, much abides.

Much passes.  Almost everything. In the last week, my ankle hurt strangely and to the point of limping for a couple of days.  My computer and phone were on fritz for a day.  Those things passed.  Grace and Whit and I lock horns and argue.  That passes.

Some things abide and endure.  No matter what happens – and the days of Grace and Whit at home are certainly something that pass – I will always be a mother to those two rapidly-growing, infuriating, extraordinary people I call my daughter and my son.  I will always have red hair, freckled skin (note my new scar, which is a downside of this coloring).  I will always be sensitive, and prefer quiet, and need to sleep (and the insomnia that’s plagued me lately is not helping). I will always be K and S’s daughter and H’s sister.  These things are eternal.

I’m comforted by what endures even as I feel anxiety about what passes.  Anxiety and ease in equal measure, I guess, when I’m honest: the things that are hard will pass, and that’s reassuring. But some things I dearly love pass, too, and that’s sorrowful.

I don’t know that I have a neat conclusion, rather an observation that has been on my mind.  Some things stay.  Most things go. Which is which is sometimes random.  These truths are both contradictory and a source of solace, at least for me.  That I can hold both of those things in my hand is perhaps a sign of maturity, I realize, as I write this.

So.  Let me breathe in what is, recognizing that some of that will pass, and some will stay, and that is as it should be.

 

 

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Healing

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In early January, Matt was showing me something to do with his leg.  He got onto his knees and turned around.  Just the mere fact of that caused me to draw breath: a few months earlier, he’d been immobile, flat on his back, with a good but attenuated prognosis.

My fingers moved unconsciously to the long scar on my left upper arm (shown above).  I had a mole removed right before Christmas, and it left a longer and larger scar than I expected.  It’s still raised (the kids call it my “caterpillar”).  But I’m fine.  As is Matt.

I can’t stop thinking about that.  I’ve written about scars before, and about our body’s ability to move on, showing the marks of its lessons and life, but I’m still amazed by all the ways that we can rebound. Years ago, I wrote an essay about finding the first freckle on Whit’s four year old body, and of the surge of sadness I felt when I realized that life had made its first imprint on him.

Jane Hirschfeld’s quote about proud flesh comes to mind:

… see how the flesh grows back across a wound, with great vehemence, more strong than the simple, untested surface before.  There’s a name for it on horses, when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh, as all flesh is proud of its wounds, wears them as honors given out after battle, small triumphs pinned to the chest.

2016 resulted in some new proud flesh for both Matt and me.  For different reasons, and to different degrees, but we have new scars (and I’m only talking about the visible, external scars). Our bodies bear the marks of our journeys. Whit has scarsGrace has bumpsMatt has a big scar.  I have several of each (I used to joke that if you hadn’t broken a bone – I’ve broken many – you weren’t trying hard enough). Yet our bodies also show a remarkable ability to move forward and to heal.  What an outrageous blessing that is.  We are all learning to dance with the limp.

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the wonder and the terror

The art of being a warrior is to balance the wonder and the terror of being alive.

-Carlos Castaneda

Thank you to Lindsey Rainwater, in whose Twitter feed I found this lovely quote.

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Winter break

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I want to remember winter break this year, because it was utterly ordinary and not at all perfect.  Already, as I write this in early January, the not-perfectness, the yelling and the imperfection, is fading into the slurry of memory and I’m recalling the shimmer of quiet days together.  It was the last time that my children will ever celebrate Christmas at 14 and 11, and every moment these days is limned with its own numbered-ness.  I know we won’t come back here. I want to remember it.

The week before Christmas was sort of frantic, with Matt and I working and the kids seeing friends before they left town.  Whit had a wonderful visit with one of his besties from camp who was visiting Boston. We celebrated with dear friends and finally, on the 24th, baked Christmas cookies.  On the 24th, we went to our local church for the annual pageant and service that I love so dearly.  I thought of the two Christmas Eves that Whit spent in the Children’s Hospital ER before he was 5 and felt grateful that he was sitting next to me in the pew. Then we had Christmas Eve dinner with my parents and our oldest, dearest family friends.  I sat next to my very first friend (we met when he was 6 weeks old and I was 2 weeks old) and watched my son (his godson) as we sang carols and felt full – of love, of all that’s over and almost-over, of what’s coming, of life itself.

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Then, on the 25th, the world screeched to a halt for a few days of quiet, which was entirely welcome. We had several days of marvelous visits with my sister, her husband, and her two children.  We had dinner with my father’s brother and his family (his oldest daughter, my first cousin, lives in Boston and is near and dear to all four of us) and celebrated my sister’s birthday.  My parents took Hilary and me and our families away for a night and we enjoyed being together.  There was rain and blue sky, milkshakes and birthday candles, swimming in a tiny pool and board games on the floor of a hotel gym.

On New Year’s Eve, friends from the neighborhood came over for an impromptu drink before dinner.  It was lovely.  Then we had New Year’s Eve dinner as a foursome, under stars on which each of us wrote some intentions for the new year. We played board games and had dessert and then moved upstairs to the family room.  Matt fell asleep and I joined him about 10:30.  Grace and Whit watched the ball drop.  I don’t know how long they will want to mark New Year’s Eve this way, but I’m going to enjoy every single second of it while they do.

On January 2nd, Matt and I went for a run together!  We ran and walked, and mostly walked, but we were out there, and together.  I can’t believe how far he’s come from the fall, when he was immobile and recovering.  I’m thrilled for him, and proud. It felt like an auspicious way to start the new year.  I’m hoping it’s a great year for us all, and for you, as well.

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to see as many chips of blue sky as we can bear

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Maybe this is what grace is, the unseen sounds that make you look up. I think it’s why we are here, to see as many chips of blue sky as we can bear. To find the diamond hearts within one another’s meatballs. To notice flickers of the divine, like dust motes on sunbeams in your dusty kitchen. Without all the shade and shadows, you’d miss the beauty of the veil. The shadow is always there, and if you don’t remember it, when it falls on you and your life again, you’re plunged into darkness. Shadows make the light show.

-Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

As I googled in my own archives last week looking for an Anne Lamott quote, I found this passage above, which brought me to tears yet again on an early January morning.  And my own words about the piece, about where I was that day (late 2009), spoke to me yet again. I’m spiraling through the same thoughts and emotions that have marked my my writing – and my life – for many years. In the worst interpretation of this pattern, I’m a broken record. In the best, I’m revisiting important topics, pushing on a bruise, trying to understand themes that are integral to who I am in the world. Broken record of bruise-pusher (or both), a few (edited) thoughts from late 2009, which still make tremendous sense to me now, on the cusp of a new year, 2017.

****

It’s okay to admit there there is only so much brilliance we can take. This is an adjunct admission to that of owning that we are not capable of living fully engaged in the moment, heart open and receiving, all the time. I try but I cannot stare into the sun all the time.

I am thankful today for the acknowledgment, by others and myself, that it’s okay to live this way. I am thankful for Anne’s gracious, lyrical reminder of the fact that shadows make the light show. There is self-acceptance, for me, in saying this out loud. It is simply the way I am, inclined towards melancholy, but that does not have to mean I have a sad life. Absolutely not.

Isn’t it, after all, the interplay of light and shadow that provides the texture of our lives? The darkness creates contrast, but it also scoops out some emotional part of me, allowing me to bear – experience, recognize, feel – more joy. I am grateful, I realize anew, for way my lens on the world is striated with both light and dark.

I am thankful today for evening light on bare trees, for the deep, glowing blue of the afternoon sky, for the words of a friend that make me feel less alone, for the tousled hair of sleepy children, for the lyrics of a song that bring tears to my eyes, for the moments when I am really and truly present, when I feel my spirit beating like wings in my chest.

So, this is happysad day for me, in a reflective season. My heart swells with awareness of my tremendous blessings, of the extravagant beauty that is my world. My thoughts are quiet and shadowy, but lit by incandescent beams of light. Like a night sky whose darkness is obliterated over and over by the flare of roman candles exploding, their colors made more beautiful by the surprise of them against the darkness. Like my life.

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Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary

Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. – Plato

I found this quote, the first sentence of which is as good an encapsulation of what I believe as I’ve ever read, on Kerry Landreth’s beautiful blog, Next Trip Around the Sun.

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Things I Love Lately

Great New Books – As you may or may not know, I write occasionally for Great New Books, reviewing a book I’ve loved.  At the end of the year we always publish a series of group posts, which I really love.  We shared our Best Books of 2016, our Favorite Book Quotes from 2016, our Favorite Book We Finally Got Around to Reading in 2016, and our Most Anticipated Books of 2017.  There are some great books mentioned here, and I hope you’ll check it out.

The Invisible Workload – Oh, wow.  This article from Time made me cry.  It’s so true, every word of it.  I’ve said before that the primary work of motherhood is the remembering work.  It’s the mental space that juggling all the details takes up that I’m most aware of and that, lately, feels heaviest.  I don’t mean to complain – I’m grateful and most of the time, I choose the role of Rememberer in Chief – but I appreciate hearing from someone outside that I’m not crazy to feel this as a heavy responsibility.

Be A Creature of Freshness – I love in particular what Lauren has to say about “trimming the fat.”  I’ve had several conversations with friends in the last year about not wanting to focus, at this point in our lives, on friendships that don’t fulfill us. I think of Anne Lamott’s story of shopping with her friend Pammy, who was facing terminal cancer, and stressing about how clothes made her look. Pammy said, “Anne, I really don’t think we have that kind of time.” I feel the same way about friendships that aren’t mutual. I also relate to what Lauren says about putting her dislike of the phone on her voicemail.  Amen to that.

Women Leaders, Relying on their Peers’ Power and Their Own – I was thrilled to see who women I view as role models and inspirations, Sheryl Sandberg and Gloria Steinem, together in this short interview.  My favorite comment is Steinem’s answer to the last question, where she talks about listening as much as talking, and about the ways that both boys and girls are forced into boxes that they’d benefit from escaping.

What are you reading, thinking about, listening to, and loving in this new year?

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

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word of the year 2017

Sometimes, I choose a word of the year.  Sometimes, I don’t.  It depends on whether a word presents itself to me in the days and weeks leading up to the end of a year.

My 2016 word was ease, which felt both ironic and essential as the year unfolded not at all easefully.  In 2011, I chose trust, and in 2012, I chose light.  I’m sure there’s some ineffable rationale behind why certain words present themselves to me at certain times (similar, of course, to my belief that there’s a deep-seated logic behind why certain quotes and lyrics run through my mind at certain times).

For the last several days, I’ve been thinking about one word: deliberate.

Deliberate.  That’s my word for 2017.

I wish to be deliberate about my love, my time, and my attention in 2017.  The truth is I already feel I’m pretty deliberate my choices. I’ve been thinking about this. Am I choosing something easy as it’s already something I do? Is that a cop-out?  Maybe. Ease sure wasn’t something I was good at, for example.  Arguably, neither are trust or lightness.  I do think there’s room for all of us to be more deliberate, though.  There are two other words that have been hovering in my mind, so much that I almost chose a triad of words for 2017.  Those other two words are gentle and human.

Maybe I want to be a deliberately gentle human in 2017?  A gentle, human, deliberate person?  All true.  I feel less laser-focused on deliberate than I’ve been on other words, but it does keep insistently presenting itself. I was speaking to a dear friend on the last day of 2016 and I mentioned deliberate as a possible word of the year.  This was the first time I’ve said this out loud.  “It seems so humorless,” I went on, saying that it felt like in some ways like a dull or uninspired choice.  Her reaction to the word was different, and that difference was validating to me. Something for me to think about, as I move forward in this new year, is why my impression of deliberate – a word I own as something I am – is boring and lame.  What does that say?  I’m not sure but I don’t think it’s good.

I will log off the computer now, as a deliberate act of choosing my family.

Do you have a word for this year?  If so, what is it?  Do you think deliberate is a humorless word? What does it mean that I chose it?

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the same thing

In the end we discover that to love and let go can be the same thing.

– Jack Kornfield

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