The three best things that happened to me yesterday happened before 6:30am: 1) a line in a poem that wouldn’t come right seemed like it would; 2) I thought of a way to return to a writing project that I keep abandoning; and 3) my 4-year old son walked into the kitchen in his penguin pajamas with his armload of sleeping paraphenalia and said, “Hello there, my friend.”
Very few people believe this, but I love riding the bus. Since I lost my license last April, I have become the world’s biggest fan of my community’s public transportation system, which really is pretty fantastic. But we are such a car-dependent society that unless you live in a large city, it’s hard to imagine existing easily without a vehicle.
Here, though, it works. It’s affordable, convenient, and it expands my world view. I meet new people all the time, eavesdrop shamelessly on private conversations, see things that I would never otherwise see from the confines of my own private vehicle. It’s a writer’s paradise.
Last week, I was sitting at this gray, sort of depressing bus stop at the edge of a run down shopping area, willing my fingers not to become frostbitten, and I noticed a public mailbox in the middle of the parking lot. I was surprised to see it there because there seem to be fewer public mailboxes around these days.
Anyway, a few minutes passed, and this little old couple in a little old car pulled slowly up to the mailbox. The little old man rolled down the window about two inches and sort of scrunched this letter out through the window into the mailbox, rolled the window back up, and then very slowly drove away. A few more minutes passed, and a mail truck pulled up to empty the mailbox, and I thought how lovely that was–that the old man’s letter would be picked up and carried on along its way. Just like the bus I was waiting for would pick me up and carry me home.
Just like the book I’m reading, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed is carrying along my thoughts and feelings about love. Moving me forward, making me feel less alone, the way the best writing always does. The book is about many things, but I’m finding the pieces about love to be particularly moving.
For example, in response to one reader (Johnny’s) question about his ambivalence about when it’s right to say “I love you” to the woman he’s dating, and his plaintive query,”What is this love thing all about?”, she writes: “You aren’t afraid of love. You’re afraid of all the junk you’ve yoked to love…Do you realize that your refusal to utter the word ‘love’ to your lover has created a force field all its own? Withholding distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel…Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to all the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will. We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime” (Strayed, pp. 16-18).
My favorite man in the world called me last night to tell me that he loved me, and he sent me an email this morning, one of those chain ones that I usually hate that said “I wish you enough.” I sat in my office and started to cry. My second favorite man always tells me that he loves me when we say goodbye on the phone. It wasn’t always this way, but when things were hard in our family over the past few years, it started to become the thing we said to each other, to carry us along, and now we always say it because it’s true, and it’s the bridge that keeps us connected until the next conversation. I love you. I love you, too.
The poem for today is by David Whyte, whom I had in mind because I remember hearing him speak about the difference between hiking and kayaking. He said how struck he was by the difference in being carried by the water in a kayak, how you could carry so much more with you because you yourself were being carried along by this elemental force instead of being weighed down by everything you needed to carry on your back.
I’m pretty sure it’s like that with love.
What carries you? What helps you keep your head above water, or buoys you along when you need a little extra support? What connects you? I’d love it if you’d share (leave a comment), and so will others who stop by to read! [One last thing, and apologies for being self-promoting, but if you enjoy reading this blog, do feel free to share with others, via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.]
Loaves and Fishes
This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
Through a stroke of incredible good fortune and family kindness, I spent Thanksgiving in Sedona, AZ and it was wonderful. Sedona is supposed to have several energy vortices that generate peace, awareness, and various types of transformation. I’m pretty sure this atmosphere affected even my dad who, of course, does not believe in such nonsense (and, I believe, actually once scoffed out loud at people meditating near one of the vortices), and yet managed to return from one of his trips with a now suspiciously well-worn ochre-toned t-shirt that my mother calls “his Zen shirt.”
In any case, Sedona was just one of the many gifts that have graced my life in the last several months, and that have allowed me again and again to experience the poetry of Psalm 23:5, “My cup overflows with blessings.” So many people have helped me in so many ways over the past 22 months. I am awestruck almost every day by something that reminds me of all of the goodness, sweetness, and love that is and has, quite simply, just been there.
There’s someone in my life right now who is my personal angel Gabriel, only she drives a black tricked out Chrysler 300 and swears a lot. But every word out of her mouth, no matter what she is actually saying, is essentially this: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” That’s what she’s saying, over and over, all the time. If I could give her to everyone I know for Christmas, I would.
Instead, I’ll share a few of the things she tells me, because a lot of people struggle with holiday crap, and with just crap in general that gets magnified at this time of the year, and passing along her wisdom might help. She says things like, “Yeah, you could do life on your own. You could. But you shouldn’t, and anyway, WHY THE FUCK would you want to??” (I told you she swears a lot). She also says, “Nothing is going to get better until you figure out how to make YOURSELF the love of your own life. Stop caring so much about what everyone else thinks. Because for real? They’re not really thinking about you all that much.”
Often she says, “Whatever bullshit you’re telling yourself about how HARD things are is wrong. Nothing is HARD. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s not actually hard. It’s simple: do the next right thing even when you don’t want to. Even when it makes you uncomfortable. And for God’s sake, look around. Don’t you see all these other people who could use some damn help? Do something for them and stop thinking about yourself.”
When I was in Sedona, I went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and it was beautiful. As in most Catholic churches, there’s an area where you can light a candle as a way to offer prayers for someone or something. Also, like most (all) Catholic churches, there was a donation box. I didn’t have any cash with me, so I left a sobriety medal instead. I also left a small cross that my mom gave me when my life fell to pieces, because I wanted to give it back, as a way to say thank you for the fact that my life is shaping itself back together in a way that feels miraculous.
I use this word very deliberately because, as my gorgeous, my foul-mouthed angel Gabriel says, “You want to know why your life feels like a freaking miracle, girl? Because IT IS a freaking miracle! After what you did, after what happened to you, if you don’t see that as divine intervention, you trippin’. Everyone who wakes up in the morning and has the sense to be grateful that they woke up at all is a damn miracle!” (She really does swear a lot).
So there is something I want you to know. And I mean you, specifically, reading this right now. At this very moment, there is a candle burning just for you in the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the breathtakingly beautiful red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. Because when I lit one of my candles, I thanked God for every single thing, everything large and small, known and unknown, every spoken and unspoken act of kindness, love and mercy that I’ve received in these past two years. That candle, that light, that flame is there for you. Right now, for whatever you need in whatever way you need it.
American poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” Sometimes in recovery people say, “You don’t have to believe you’ll get better. We’ll believe it for you until you’re ready to believe it for yourself.” So just in case you need some extra light or warmth, there’s at least one flame out there especially for you. Because that’s how it works. That’s how we make it.
All love, all gratitude, and lots of hope for a joyful holiday,
What We Need is Here (by Wendell Berry)
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
In the days following Gabe’s birth, six years ago on November 28th, I listened often to Carrie Newcomer’s CD “Regulars and Refugees.” Gabe is our only winter baby, and lying in bed, holding him, with a clear, clean light coming through the big windows, I listened to that CD over and over. The first song has a character named Gabriel Thomas in it and that is Gabe’s full name. The music on that CD helped me find a part of myself that I recognized again, which was really welcome after the life-exploding event of giving birth to another human being.
Consider this a reading PSA: there is SO much data & information that presents itself to us every single day, and without intentional effort (sometimes even with it), it’s almost impossible to claim any real, quiet mental space. When I was in California for 5 weeks this winter, I didn’t have my cell phone or my laptop and I didn’t miss either. At all. But this isn’t a post about “unplugging.” It’s more about something an acquaintance of mine used to say, “Be greedy for the good things.” She meant that we should search out the life-affirming, inspiring, uplifting things and claim them for ourselves, especially since so many other things claim us and our precious attention. Today, I’m sharing one of the things that makes my heart lift up every day, in the hopes that it does the same for you. The blogger is a young mother of four who survived a plane accident that left her burned over 80% of her body. Her story, her spirit, and her fabulous style make this a not-to-be-missed site. Click below. You won’t be sorry. I promise.
Earlier this year, when I was writing my Lenten blog, I described a practice that some members of my family have been following this year (it’s in the post called “Nice Things Men Do“). Basically, my dad came up with this idea for my mom that they would each do two acts of kindness for the other person on alternating months. So my dad would take one month, my mom the next month, etc., and there were various rules and stipulations, like you couldn’t combine a birthday or anniversary gift with an act of kindness, etc. Martin and I liked this idea a lot so we decided to do it too.
I so very dearly wish that I had the freedom to provide the specific, juicy details on how this all worked out, but I definitely don’t. What I can tell you is that I’ve been observing how the experience unfolded over the year, and one line from the Carrie Newcomer song, “When One Door Closes,” summarizes it perfectly: “It’s not always getting what you want but wanting what you get.” And I’ve been wondering about what this means for the act of giving and receiving gifts that we all experience (sometimes endure is a better word) at this time of the year. Here are some of my thoughts.
Well, it’s only taken me 7 months to encourage people to read my blog, and along the way I’ve learned that really, everyone has a blog, and if you are not up to the nanosecond on “social media,” you’re doomed to obscurity. So, I’m asking for your help in helping me to “promote” my blog (but ONLY if you feel like it’s worth promoting).
Here are very simple ways to do this: you can of course encourage subscribers (they have to do this themselves, you can’t do it for them), you can click on any of the “share” buttons at the end of each post (email, Facebook, Tweet, share etc.), and I also think there’s a button on the top of each post the says “Like” with a little star next to it.
Any of these things will help me inch along in the world of social media networking, and would be much appreciated. And if there’s anything else that I can be doing to make my blog more worth promoting in that world, please, please, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I would LOVE the advice!
And P.S. Maybe when we get to 20,000 views, we can have a virtual party! We can all eat Baskin Robins at the same time!!!
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the many thought-provoking, heart-felt, meaningful questions that you sent in. And if you didn’t send one yet, it’s not too late! Email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure your question gets posted anonymously. I noticed several themes in what people wrote, and some of are them are: will I ever feel like I am enough? Who am I really? Is this all there is? When will I find meaning in my life? There were a bunch of other that I definitely want to get to (esp. the one about keeping one’s journals: YES!!!), but today I’m going to start with the question: will we ever feel like we are enough? Here is the answer: No.
My mother used to tell me that, for several years, when I got home from school, I headed straight for the couch and took a nap. And recently, one of my relatives who is retired told me that he had the perfect daily routine: he woke up, had breakfast, read, listened to the radio or podcasts on his computer, then took his bike out for a 20 mile ride, came home, drank two glasses of wine and took a nap. Then he ate a meal, wrote in his journal, maybe worked in the yard. I cannot tell you what I would give for this life. So I’ve been sick for about a week now and aside from the sick part, (and believe me, if I were sick from something really bad, this would be a radically different post) it’s actually quite lovely, because you see many things that you don’t get to see when you’re out in the world.
Happy second Sunday of Advent, my friends! While I am quite certain that you are not sitting at your computers every morning awaiting the appearance of a post from me, I want to apologize for the missed ones this week. Again, stomach bugs and sitting for long periods of time don’t seem to go well together. I definitely miss you! And I wanted to tell you about something I did this week that I absolutely swore I would not do. In fact, I didn’t even really swear, I just knew that I did not have the slightest interest in doing this thing, so I barely thought about. I watched “Eat, Pray, Love.”