Having neither spectacular accomplishments nor grave misfortunes to report, and, to be honest, having exhausted the vein of humorous family anecdotes over the years, I will tell you instead that we are all well and fine, and hope that you are too.
Instead of Srajek family details, which are really much the same as any other family’s day-to-day lives, I offer this story about something that happened to us this time last year, at the start of a long Midwest winter.
In our local paper there used to be a kid’s feature called “Letters to the Editor,” where school kids responded to a question from the editor, and then some responses from each school got published. One week last December, Jacob’s answer to the question “What is the top item on your Christmas list this year?” turned up in the paper. He wrote that since he wanted to be a carpenter when he grew up, he had “always wanted” a carpenter’s plane.
If he didn’t get that, the number two thing on the list was “lots of nice building wood,” a response that makes him sound quainter and less electronically minded than he really is, but, well, he was probably writing what he knew had the best chance of getting published (they’re never too young to play to the crowd).
About a week after his response appeared in the paper, we received a letter in the mail from a woman we did not know. She apologized if we were not the parents of Jacob Srajek, said that she had looked us up in the phone book, and she hoped her writing was not an imposition to us. A clipping of Jacob’s letter was neatly taped to the corner of her own letter, which was printed on paper with a decorative floral border. Continue reading “a heart-felt holiday”→
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.
At the beginning of this year, I had to attend one of those perennially unhelpful workshops on work/life balance. I strongly despise the whole concept of work/life balance, partly because it implies that your work is not your life and your life is not your work, and partly because balance is a static position that doesn’t last. (For more useful ways of looking at this issue, see David Whyte’s The Three Marriages.)
The 2nd Sunday of Advent has come and gone, the amaryllis’ that I wanted to plant by December 1st are still in their boxes, and last night we just didn’t have the energy to decorate the tree that Martin put up in the morning. But! This morning in the shower, I decided that it was not too late to do another Advent blog. I’ll explain how this came to be in a moment, but know that I’ll be doing my very best to post every day until Christmas, and I would love it, as always, if you were here.
Like the wedding of Charles and Diana, William and Catherine’s wedding has been referred to, over and over again, as a “fairy tale.” Most of us are guilty of using commonly repeated words or phrases, such as “fairy tale,” without really thinking about what they mean. But just a short mental reconnaissance through our beloved childhood “fairy tales” reminds us that every story from this genre features a scary villain: the sharp-toothed wolf dressed as the trusted grandmother; the evil stepmother with the blood-red nails; the bitter old crone whose poison needle puts the beautiful princess to sleep for 100 years. Consider myths like Beowulf. Beowulf is nothing without Grendel. Actually, Beowulf is nothing without Grendel’s mother. Because killing Grendel doesn’t solve Beowulf’s problem. Killing Grendel teaches Beowulf the very painful lesson that what you thought you had to conquer was only the first step, and your real quest is to confront the way scarier thing waiting for you just around the corner (or at the bottom of the lake, in this case). This quest is what fairy tales are really about.
I got up at 3:15AM on April 29th, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. I did it partly because I had gotten up super-early to watch Charles and Di’s glorious but ill-fated affair, which was like a true fairly tale for the adolescent I was then.
But this time around, as a full-grown woman, I appreciated it much more, not because of the over the top (hats) pomp and circumstance, or the chance to see Elton John and his partner in full morning dress, and especially not to see Victoria Beckham, who looked like a big snot-nose, as if she was there on sufferance.
No, I’m so happy that I got to watch the ceremony because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have heard the homily, delivered by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres. Aside from the homily delivered at my own wedding, this was the most beautiful wedding homily I’ve ever heard. Gabe, who’s 5, liked the fighter jet flyover the most. As for me, it was the homily (reprinted below), and it even included poetry!
It is such a good thing that people lie to you when you have very young children, and you ask them if it ever gets easier and they say “Yes!” Because if they told the truth, your own and possibly your offspring’s chances of surviving the first 5 years of their lives would decrease significantly. I don’t know why people lie to parents of small children about this. It might be because the horrible physical demands of early parenting do easy up (sleep deprivation, carrying loads of crap everywhere, existing in a constant state of muscle-twitching vigilance, etc.) , and you don’t really have to deal with vomit or snot or feces as much with a teenager as you do with an under-3. Of course, if you did, you’ve really got a completely different set of issues. No, I think the reason people perpetuate the myth that parenting gets easier is because the reality would just be too much to take on board for at least the first 10 years. And the reality is that with each year of your child’s life that passes, you lose less and less control. So whereas at first your main job is to keep another human alive, when every atom of your body is dedicated to this 24/7/365 to infinity, eventually you just become obsolete. Except no one remembers to tell your heart this.
On this beautiful sunny midwest morning (hey, do I sound like I’m from California??), I had the joy of speaking about therapeutic writing to a group of folks at Generations of Hope, a very cool multi-generational community. At Generations of Hope,”children adopted from foster care find permanent and loving homes, as well as grandparents, playmates and an entire neighborhood designed to help them grow up in a secure and nurturing environment.” This morning at Hope Meadows, we talked about writing, about how it needs compassion about self-permission in order to thrive. Going through the world with an open and watchful heart really helps too. And then they asked me the question everyone asks about ongoing writing which is, “How do I find time to do it?” Here is the secret to answering this question…
Hello everyone! Well, this makes me sound like Out of Africa’s Karen Blixen (“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”), but nevertheless: I’ve been on a ranch in Malibu, at the foot of the Santa Monica mountains. Yes indeed–I got a free pass on 5 weeks of Illinois winter this year and it was exquisite. Looking out my window right now, it’s gray and bare, but that’s okay, because if I close my eyes I can see mountain trails lined with rosemary and eucalyptus, magical waterfalls and fragrant bay leaf trees, and the tidal pools of Matador Beach, dotted with sea urchins that close like tiny fists around your finger if you touch them. If we instituted a mandatory month in southern California every February, the world would be a much happier place, I feel sure.