joy to be found

I am still full of questions, but life has taught me this:
Love moves with us.  Always, there is joy to be found.

-Connie Schultz

Yet another perfect quote that I found on First Sip.

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Things I Love Lately

I’ll be honest.  I’m not loving a lot right now, since I’m preoccupied with what’s going on in our country.  But when I am not reading news, I’m trying to distract myself, I’ll be honest.  I’d love to hear what you are reading, thinking about, and loving lately.

MARS – Whit and I are watching this marvelous National Geographic series (available on demand).  It’s a great mash-up of futuristic fiction and real-life reality, and it’s inspiring, entertaining, and educational all at the same time.

Small Great Things – I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s latest novel and finding it both incredibly relevant and more moving than I anticipated.  Great plot, riveting story, and I just read that Viola Davis and Julia Roberts will star in the movie, which sounds perfect.

Books for Living – I read Will Schwalbe’s lovely second book over the winter holiday, before things went off the rails (it feels to me), so it’s less in the distract-myself bucket than other things.  I adored reading his reflections on books he’s loved and highly recommend this book.

Rogue POTUS Staff – I’m a big Twitter fan (find me here) and this account, from a secret staffer within the White House, has me riveted.  In a terrified, horrified way, but the information coming out seems to be good.  Check them out now before they get shut down!

Favorite Childhood Books – This week at Great New Books we’re sharing our favorite childhood books.  This is such a great list – for children and for adults! I bet you can guess what mine is!!

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

 

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Be here now

I loved Michiko Kakutani’s wonderful article about Obama the reader, Obama the writer, as he prepares to leave the White House. There was much about the piece that moved me, but it’s this line I can’t stop thinking about:

He has a writer’s sensibility — an ability to be in the moment while standing apart as an observer

I read that and stopped.  I read it again.  And again.  I started to crying.  I’ve written ad nauseum about my fierce desire to be here now.  I’ve also written, over and over again, about the sense I have inside my own life of being slightly removed, of having my nose pressed against a window as I watch things happening through it. I am the official photographer, after all. But I’ve been thinking through the implications of that bias, that role, for many years.

I am trying to be here, and I am resolutely outside.

Can these things coexist?

By the way, I’m not saying I’m comparing myself to Obama.  I’m also not calling myself a writer.  But that sentence stopped me in my tracks, because I want so dearly to be in the moment, but I also recognize that I am often standing apart.  Am I trying to thread an impossible needle, reconcile two fundamentally opposed goals?  Or can I be both?

I don’t plan to stop trying to be here now, to stop trying to release the claim the past and future make on my present.  But maybe it’s a relief to honor the difficulty I have with that: maybe it’s part of my wiring.

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what is

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

– Albert Einstein

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Marching

On Saturday, January 21st, Grace and I left our house at about 10:30 to head into Boston to join the march.  There was a couple behind us in pink hats as we walked down our street to the T stop.  It was crowded at the T stop, and it was slow going down the escalators to the trains.  It started to dawn on me that a lot of people were there.  We had to wait for a couple of trains to go by because only a couple of people could squeeze into the cars, and the platform was jammed.

Finally we got into a car.  As we made our way into Boston, slowly because there were a lot of unusual stops (presumably because the car ahead of us couldn’t shut its doors when trying to leave the station ahead of us), the people in our T car began to sing.  First, We Shall Overcome.  Then, This Land is Our Land.  I had tears rolling down my cheeks within moments.

We got off the T in Boston and made our way slowly down Charles Street towards the Boston Common.  The streets were packed with people walking, holding signs and wearing pink, men and women both. When we got to the Common, we found a corner to stand and Grace climbed the gate so she could see more.  As far as the eye could see: people.  Old, young, male, female, families. There were many fantastic signs, about 95% of which were positive in nature.

I was moved to tears over and over again during the day.  There was a tangible energy in the air, of cooperation and support, of love and energy and, yes, resistance.  But it was peaceful and strong and diverse. I’m a Bostonian through and through, and there are many times this city has moved me. The parades and the tragedies and the triumphs.  All of it.  But Saturday felt different, somehow, soft while still being resolved, determined. There were so many people, and yet it was calm, peaceful.

I kept looking at Grace and several of her friends, most of them 14 now, thinking about how they will vote in the next presidential election, about how I desperately want our country to be what they deserve.  Grace is paying attention.  I was so proud to watch her as she watched the crowd, noticed signs, and sensed the energy around her. I don’t know that I have a specific conclusion other than to say I was tremendously moved to be a tiny part of the tidal wave that was this past weekend.  When I heard people chanting “This is what democracy looks like” I felt a frisson of acknowledgement, deep and true, that I believe that, and also of how far parts of our leadership have drifted from that.

In the days since Saturday I’ve seen one quote over and over again on social media.  My mother gave me a pillow years ago with these same words on it, and I love them:

Here’s to strong women.
May we know them
May we be them
May we raise them.

Amen.  I’m grateful to be flanked by strong women in my own family, and I am more thankful than I can express to have been a small part of Saturday’s demonstration.

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Twelve Years Old

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A late December morning, on your new beanbag, which was a Christmas present.  It’s not small.

Dear Whit,

On Friday, you turned twelve.  It’s the oldest cliche in the book, and also one of the great truisms: how is this possible?  You just arrived, in a cold snap and just in advance of a blizzard, shocking me and your father with your boy-ness, your blue eyes, and your blond hair.  All three of those charateristics remain true, twelve years later, and the shock has moderated to a gentle startle, but suffice it to say you can still surprise us.

Mostly you surprise us with how closely you’re paying attention, and with the way you remember things.  Even as a small child, you’d bust out with references to things we’d said or done weeks or months ago, making it very clear that we had better mean everything we said since it was filed away in your steel trap for future use.  You are also able to take my breath away with surprising demonstrations of sensitivity, which I’m already getting a feeling the world doesn’t quite know what to do with in a boy.  For that reason above all, I want to protect your ability to feel deeply, your language about your own feelings, and your willingness to talk about the landscape of emotion.

You don’t always love feeling so much, I know. Over the winter break, we put away our enormous stash of Legos into the basement. I found you sitting quietly in the living room, clearly sad.  When I probed, you started crying and admitted it was really hard to put the Legos away.  They’d meant so much to you for so long.  I meant something was over.  I was reminded of the evening, many years ago, when you wept about wanting to still be a baby.

I saw something that night that was keenly familiar. There’s a deep seam of nostalgia and an orientation towards melancholy buried inside of you (underneath your hilarious exterior, which means it’s unexpected) that I suspect you inherited from me. In a lot of ways, though, you’ve very different from me (though we look more and more alike, in my opinion – sorry about that!) and I watch you move through the world with a mixture of bewilderment (you are mostly unburdened by the desperate need to please that weighs heavily on my shoulders and, also, on those of your sister) and admiration (what a marvelously reasonable and free way to go through life!).

Your bedroom is just down the hall from my office, where I spent the great majority of my time.  That means a little extra exposure to you, and such delights as listening to you sing Do You Hear the People Sing under your breath as you do math homework or hearing your daily check in conversation with your Echo Dot when you get home from school. “Hey, Alexa! How was your day?” You often ask.

You like sports and have played hockey, baseball, and tennis for many years.  You started playing football this year in school, and you and your equal-sized dear friend standing among the giant 8th grade boys was one of my favorite photographs from last fall. You are an excellent team mate and coaches inevitably refer to your attitude and coachability.  You really enjoy being a part of a team and your Dad and I like the way it’s allowed you to meet and bond with friends outside of school.

It’s not sports that really makes your heart beat faster, though.  More than anything, that’s science and robotics.  For a while we went to the MIT lectures on various science topics on Saturday mornings, you eagerly await your monthly Tinker Crate, and the Science Museum is one of your favorite places. You have a periodic table taped to the wall of your bedroom, Randall Munroe’s What If? is one of your most treasured books, and you love Scratch.  A couple of summers ago Dad and I set up a workbench for you in the basement, and you like to retreat down there to tinker and work.  You were disappointed, however, when we decided it wasn’t safe for you to use power tools and work with wood alone in the basement.

Summer camp is your happy place, and the fact that you gamely returned last summer despite a not-great experience in 2015 makes me proud. You learned some important lessons about perseverance and trying things again, and you were amply rewarded with a terrific summer last year.  You are counting minutes until your return this upcoming summer.  You also love the weeks you spend with my parents at their house on the ocean, and wowed both your Dad and I when we saw the series of alarms you’d set on your old itouch to remind you that it was time to go to sailing and tennis.  Your autonomy and independence are growing in leaps and bounds.

You are funny and you are wise and you are generous and you are kind.  Most often, you’re the member of the family who remembers to ask about a doctor’s appointment or big meeting.  You run upstairs when you get home and give me a hug. You aren’t always in a good mood, but when you are you are one of the more charming people I’ve ever met.  You make me laugh every single day. This fall, after watching one debate with us, you would randomly respond to questions by muttering, “Emails!  Benghazi!” More than one person has asked me if we named you a trait we wanted you to have – ie wit – and the answer is no (your name is a family name on my side, and my sister’s middle name) but I understand the question.

You are rapidly shedding any little boy behaviors.  When I looked for a picture to put in this post, I was startled by how grown up you looked in recent photos.  You are still a small guy, but you’re growing up fast.  You still hug me, give me our secret “I love you” sign when I drop you at school in the morning, and eagerly climb into bed next to me to read at night.  Please don’t stop doing those things!  You are getting braces soon, though, and you have expressed your preference that I not cheer loudly for “Whitty!” at the hockey rink.  Fair enough.

When I wrote a post for you on Instagram on Friday, I mentioned one of the things I love best about you.  As is often the case with me, I didn’t really realize I felt something until I wrote it down.  But what I said is true: you have a deep comfort about you, and I know you believe in a benevolent universe.  You’re fine with not knowing it all, with not being totally in control, ad that comfort is foreign and reassuring to me in equal measure.  It’s inspiring, too.  I want to be more like that.  Thank you for teaching me that – and a million other things, like how tall the average giraffe is – every day.

Dear, beloved Whit, my last baby, the person who completed our family, you dazzle me with your intelligence and your humor and mostly indefatigable good attitude. I described you recently as the sparkle in our family, and you are.  I’m grateful every single day that I get to be your mother, and I’ll love you all the days of my life.  Without reservation, without question, without hesitation.

Happy twelfth birthday,

Mum

jan05-whitgraciemum3

January 20, 2005.  We all loved you from the start (the photographer too).

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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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