The season of amazement

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Magnolias remind me powerfully of college, and of this particularly, wonder-full time of year

I write often about wonder here (I think wonder is one of the most-often used words in blog post titles of mine, and probably in the text of posts, too).  It’s true that I feel awe and amazement on a regular basis, and that’s exactly how I want to experience the world. It’s not all good, of course: for example I feel nothing short of abject awe at how lousy vertigo feels.  I’m writing this on day seven and I still feel shaky, nauseous, and flat-out terrible.  I don’t even want to go on my kids’ favorite ride at Canobie Lake Park, the Turkish Twist, for two minutes.  I’ve been trapped on it for a week now.  This is terrible.  And in the true meaning of the word, awe-some.

A lot of the wonder I feel is good, though, and as I walked to do an errand last week (bobbing around on the sidewalk, because I still struggle to walk in a completely straight line), I looked up and noticed that during one of my days in bed the world had burst into insistent, almost ferocious spring bloom.  That this fact continues to amaze me, even in my fortieth year, makes me very glad.  I started thinking about the things that I hope always make me feel wonder.  I don’t ever want to be cynical, or jaded, or to take this world’s breathtaking beauty for granted.

I so many ways, spring is the season of amazement.  I hope I always feel a surge of surprised delight when I notice that the trees around me are jubilantly blooming, that the air has a new, softer texture to it, that the days suddenly seem long.  Like so many things in life, spring arrives very gradually and then, overnight.

So one thing I always hope to feel wonder at is the advent of spring.  There are others, though:

Internet access in an airplane.  In fact, airplanes in general.  I hope I always feel wonder at how it is that this enormous metal tube is flying thousands of miles above the earth, and that I’m tweeting a I sit there.  It’s downright incredible.

The speed of time’s passage.  Specifically, right now, that Grace is graduating from sixth grade.  I swear, I swear, it was just moments ago that my friends – some of whom I’m grateful to still call my friends – and I stood in that same gym, singing our class song, The Greatest Love of All, before exploding into summer, energy and enthusiasm and hormones all coming together into a tidal surge.

Dawn breaking across the sky and the gloaming before sunset.  The fact that we get to witness these majestic moments, every single day (well, most, of it’s not raining), takes my breath away.  Every day.

Organ transplantation.  It’s not a secret that this is a cause near to me, and when I stop and think about the notion that another person’s heart (and another, different person’s kidney) beats in the chest of someone I love dearly I can’t even process it.  The wonder is extreme.  It boggles the mind.  I hope transplantation becomes more common – please tell your next of kin of your desire to be a donor – but I hope it never ceases to amaze me.  Because it is truly extraordinary.

What amazes you?  What do you hope to always feel awe about?

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Still dizzy & the Mid

Still dizzy, so nothing new today.  I’ll be back soon, I hope!

In the meantime, I hope you’re all reading The Mid.  I love this site, dedicated to life in the “messy middle.”  I’m happy that that one of my favorite pieces went up there this weekend, about a night at hockey when I felt painfully aware of how often I allow my own exhaustion or aggravation to occlude the beauty of this ordinary, flawed existence.

It’s not new, but it’s still salient (to me), this desperate wish to be here now and of the simultaneous weight of my expectation that I can do so all the time.  Is my constant sense of failing to be present getting in the way of my actually being present?

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Time offers this gift in its millions of ways

The Gift

Time wants to show you a different country. It’s the one
that your life conceals, the one waiting outside
when curtains are drawn, the one Grandmother hinted at
in her crochet design, the one almost found
over at the edge of the music, after the sermon….

It’s a balance, the taking and passing along,
the composting of where you’ve been and how people
and weather treated you. It’s a country where
you already are, bringing where you have been.
Time offers this gift in its millions of ways,
turning the world, moving the air, calling,
every morning, “Here, take it, it’s yours.”

– William Stafford

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A weekend with Whit, and vertigo

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Whit turned ten in January, but we finally celebrated his birthday with a party (ish) on Saturday.  His best friend slept over on Friday night and we went indoor skydiving and surfing on Saturday at Sky Venture in Nashua, New Hampshire.  The boys had a blast.  The photos and video I have of Whit’s face in the skydiving chamber are priceless.

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After skydiving they went surfing.  This was really fun too.  I thought about the surfing camp I went to, in 2000, right before graduating from business school.  I found surfing really difficult.  Nevertheless, they were undaunted and unafraid.

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On Sunday, Whit’s baseball team had their first scrimmage.  For the first time in his life, he pitched.  I watched him on the mound and tears pricked at my eyes.  He has a long way to go but I’m proud of him for standing there alone, for trying, for opening himself up to failure like that.  It’s a lot of pressure, pitching.  I have a new respect for everyone who has taken the mound, whether in the World Series playoffs or on a Little League field.

Monday morning I woke up out of breath, the room spinning around me.  This has never happened to me before.  I had felt a bit off for days, truth be told: vaguely dizzy and just plain strange.  The best way I can describe how I felt last week is as though I was floating above myself, but not entirely inside my own body.  Monday I knew why.  I couldn’t stand up without falling over and the room kept spinning.  Thankfully Matt was able to stay home with me Monday and took me to the doctor who did some basic neuro tests and confirmed that this seems to be a garden variety episode of vertigo.

I’m writing on Tuesday morning and I still feel terrible.  Perhaps slightly improved over yesterday (I am sitting at my desk, but my head is hurting and spinning at the same time) but definitely not okay.  I still don’t want to drive.  I really just want to lie down.  There’s a limit to how long I can put my day job on hold.  I’m trying to accept the very loud message from the universe that I don’t control it – or anything.  This is both unpleasant and scary though, if I’m honest.

I keep thinking about Whit leaning forward into a tunnel of air or stepping onto a surfboard or the pitching mound.  I need some of his courage now.

Note: I was not compensated by Sky Venture for this post in any way.  This is just my personal experience.

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Narrowing

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I loved Shauna Niequist’s post, Narrowing.  I read it several times, and relate to so much of what she says.  Well, other than the fact that she’s clearly a spring chicken still in her thirties!  But, seriously:

There’s a narrowing that takes place as you grow up, I think—you leave more and more behind: things other people want you to be, things you thought you might want to be, ways of living that never did actually fit, like shoes that are a little too tight.

Yes. Oh, yes. The letting go of what others wanted me to be resonates, but so, frankly, does the notion of letting go of who I thought I wanted to be.  I’ve had an on-and-off dialog with a dear friend from college about the concept of a Big Life, and of how, ultimately, that doesn’t really sound appealing to me.  What I want, I know now, is a small life, but one rich and deep and full of love.  A narrow life, I think is what I mean.

Not narrow as in narrow-minded.  Not at all.  More like a narrow passage I squeeze through and then, on the other side, I see a yawning chasm full of a beauty so sparkling it almost takes my breath away.  I’m reminded of something I wrote many years ago, about how I kept seeing glitter on the insides of my eyelids, about how when I narrowed my life I actually opened up passageways to a joy so expansive I could never have imagined it.

I wrote that I had glimpsed a planetarium sky that I want to study, to watch, to learn by heart almost four years ago and it’s only getting more true.  Now that I’ve crossed the bright line into my forties, I find the narrowing continues.  My oft-ferocious attachment to those things I love most can come across sometimes as rigid, I’ve been made aware of that and I can honestly see why.  That’s not my intention, at all, but I agree I can be nearly maniacal about protecting the things that matter the most to me.  I don’t want Grace and Whit to ever doubt that they and their father are the most important people in my life.  I want them to know that for me, time spent the four of us is nothing short of holy.  I need to sleep enough and get fresh air and I want to do a little bit of writing around the edges of my very full time job.  There’ s not a lot of me left after those things have been taken care of.  In fact there’s often not enough of me simply to give what I want to to those few (but large, and deep) buckets!

But there’s another reason that I can’t back away from the narrowing of my life, and it is something else Niequist refers to.  She mentions that she’s particularly permeable during writing times.  Candidly, that’s how I feel all of the time, and increasingly strongly.  I have written many times about my porous nature. What I let into the space around me – the sounds, books, feelings, and people – has a huge impact on me.

Now that I have seen the vast chasm that opens up once I narrowed my life – the geode lined with hidden glittering that Catherine Newman refers to – I can’t look away.

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… I could feel it being painted within me

THIS MUCH I DO REMEMBER

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

Alll of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

– Billy Collins

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This is our story

G Shrek

Last week was the 6th grade musical.  The play was Shrek and Grace was the donkey (there were several).  She’s been going to rehearsal a lot and I’ve had to run to Target to buy her a black tee shirt and then a black tank top, but on the whole I had very little visibility into the play.  We never practiced her lines.  We never practiced her songs.  We never practiced her dances.  I had definitely been very hands off when it came to her experience with Shrek.  So I was excited to see her perform last week.  It was absolutely marvelous.  Grace blew me away with her confidence and her humor – she was funny and she sang well and demonstrated a fair amount of swagger on stage.  It was great. I was proud and happy for her.  These reactions did not surprise me.

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What I was not expecting, though, was the swell of intense emotion, nostalgia, and joy when the entire cast sang the musical’s last song, This is Our Story.

We are witches, we are fairies
We are weirdos, I’m an Aries
We’re a giant different sampler here to try
We are puppets, we are rabbits
We are hobbits with bad habits
We’re a screwy but delighted crazy stew

We are different and united
We are us and we are you
This is our story, this is our story
This is our story

There was such tremendous power in watching these 55 children, many of whom have been in the same class since they were 4 years old, sing these words that I so loved.  .  Grace is twelve and a half, well on her way into the woods of adolescence, and there is much about life right now that doesn’t feel simple to her (or to me).  There are emotional and social and intellectual tangles aplenty at school.  But last week, as I watched children who I’ve known since they were nearly toddlers sing their hearts out, all of that was forgotten. Instead there was palpable joy and a tangible sense of triumph. They took it seriously, and they worked hard, and nobody was flip or blase.  They threw themselves into the performance, and I loved witnessing their enthusiasm, their commitment, and their energy.  I laughed and laughed, which I’d anticipated, but it was the throat-tightening rise of tears that took me by surprise.

This is their story indeed, and it’s my honor and privilege to be watching from a front row seat.

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Two years ago

it feels impossible not to acknowledge today, the marathon, the memory of two years ago.  I wrote this then and the picture gives me goosebumps.  Grace looked big then but of course now she’s two years taller and older.  At the last visit to the doctor, 5’1″.  And she runs more now – in fact my essay about Eleven for This is Adolescence revolved around the metaphor that cross-country has become (to me) for parenting.  Incidentally, it was a thrill to see that essay in Brain, Child’s newest issue.

But today is equal parts solemn and celebratory, with shadows of two years ago hanging heavily over a day filled with achievement for so many.  I have several friends running today, and I bow down to their commitment.  They are an inspiration to me, plain and simple.  So is my town, for the way we came together in the wake of a terrible experience two years ago.

City of my Heart

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On Sunday, the day before Patriot’s Day and the Boston marathon, Grace ran her first road race.  On the marathon course.  I was in New York for work, so I missed it, but I was sent this fantastic picture.  My heart swelled with both pride and shock, because really, how can my baby be that old?  That tall?

On Monday, Patriot’s Day, as you know, there was an explosion at the Boston marathon.  That tall, lanky girl, for whom I think the word coltish may have been coined, dissolved into a puddle of anxiety.  I told both she and Whit what had happened the minute I heard (they were home from school, sitting in the room next to my office), mostly because I was so startled by the news.  She hovered around my office all afternoon, lurking, asking constant questions, reading over my shoulder.

Right before the explosions, we had been talking about groups of people from the Marines (or Army, I admit I don’t know) who ran the course in their uniforms with backpacks.  Grace’s first reaction to the events, and to the few pictures she saw of the devastation (before I turned the TV off), was: “But those poor people just came home from war, where they saw this all the time.  They weren’t supposed to see it at home.”

Indeed, they weren’t.

I spent the afternoon toggling between bewilderment at this world that we live in, trying to understand what feels like a relentless wave of violence, and hugely heartened by it, as I received more texts and emails than I can count from people from all corners of my life (and the world) checking that we were okay.

But most of all, this: the city of my heart, my home, is bleeding and broken, under attack.

On our day of celebration, which starts at dawn with reenactments of the battles of Lexington and Concord and ends with the last runners limping across the finish line long after the sun has gone down.  Our day of inspiration and striving, of humanity at its finest: I am always moved equally by the runners who push themselves past all reason and by the spectators who come out to watch the river of dedication and devotion.  Marathon Monday is a pure celebration of our beating hearts and of our feet walking on this earth.  This day, this Patriot’s Day, our day, is now forever marked by explosions, lost limbs, dead children (my GOD – an eight year old – Whit is eight – how is this possible?), senseless death and hurt.

I hate that it happened on our day, on Patriot’s Day, on Marathon day.  I hate that this happened at all.

I ache for my city, the city I was born in, the city I’ve lived in since I graduated from college, the city I love, my home.

I know that many other cities in our country have been visited by tremendous pain and brutality over the last several years.  I feel a sense of “it’s our turn,” followed immediately by outrage that I could ever say that. What world do we live in where that’s the deal?

This piece was originally written and posted two years ago.

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what it means to live

“I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.” – Jane Hirschfield

Thanks to my friend Kris for pointing me to this perfect passage.

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Insides and Outsides

I’ve written before about the perilous gulf between perception and reality, and about the dangerous assumptions people make about others (okay, fine, me) based on outsides.

Outsides and insides are not the same.

When I was much younger, and struggling in a difficult period, someone very dear to me expressed frustration and disbelief.  How I could possibly be blue when everything seems to be going so well, he asked.  I have never forgotten that conversation.  It felt like he was challenging the authenticity of my emotions, and my initial reaction was anger.  I know now that his intentions were good.  But I had and since then have seen so many people who seem to have “perfect” lives struggling that I knew the disbelief was unfounded.  Even all those years ago I knew that how things looked was no reflection on how they felt.  My life, while far from perfect, was back then indeed on a smooth highway.  It still is.  I often describe my life – at 30, or 35, or, now, 40 – as exactly as I planned it and nothing like I expected.

This whole things-aren’t-always-as-they-seem works both ways.  Some people who seem to have “everything” aren’t actually that happy.  I also know that some of the most genuinely joyful and contented people I know are the ones whose lives may not look perfect and glossy on the surface.  I don’t know that it’s an inverse correlation, but it’s at least a random scatter.

This train of thought seems related, to me, to what I wrote about on Monday, to my reflection on David Brooks’ marvelous essay about shifting from emphasizing “resume virtues” to “eulogy virtues” in his own life.  This shift is similar to – maybe parallel to – a movement from relying on external indicators to the recognition that what matters is not visible on the outside.  Even as I write that I cringe a little: it sounds simplistic.  But I do think there’s something there.  And most of all, I just want to exhort everyone to stop making assumptions based on what they can see.  First of all, we can’t see the whole picture, ever.  What we see of other people is like the tiniest tip of the iceberg, and the lion’s share of their experience, of their entire person, is beneath the water, out of sight.

I need to remember this too.

Just as I started thinking and writing this post, I read these words of Anne Lamott’s on this very topic on my friend Rudri’s beautiful site.

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