it plummeted. this stunningly beautiful day – high 60s and touching the bright happy face of the low 70s – and then…
the highest high this week is 42, with a feels-like of 38. the lowest high this week is 26, with a feels-like of 13, which, incidentally they label “very cold” in parentheses next to the number 13. no duh. the lowest low will be 15 and the app leaves us guessing – right now – on the feels-like of that. so…yes…it plummeted.
but for a few days november teased us and dandy lions rose from the dirt, roaring, “spring! it must be spring!”. i’m betting if we hiked out there – say today – snow showers in the forecast – all the dandies would be gone, all shriveled and sad, tucking their heads down against the wind and elements. but those few days…
they are reminders of things we don’t appreciate while we have them. reminders to stand in gratitude – to look around all bright-eyed and see the amazing things in our own sphere as we encounter them. we linger often on the negatives, the anxieties and angsty worries, the what-we-don’t-haves. but on the day you can feel the sun on your face and are surrounded by the colors of autumn and the dandies are in bloom and the owl hoots in the night, i feel like it would sustain me longer were i to linger just another minute to recognize it all.
this past week. a hotbed mixture of happenings and emotions. loss and sundrenched days, both. the dashing of dreams and dreaming, both. end-of-life and birth, both. i look back and try to stand in each of those places, try to soak it up – like a dandelion in last-licks-sunshine – and i try to appreciate it all. not just appreciate it…reeeeally appreciate it. it all matters. fear is in there too…we are human and we get scared. but gratitude is like a warm blanket and it helps, even a little.
we were lucky to hike, lucky to drive north a few hours to see a friend perform, lucky to have had a time of security, lucky to stand together in an rv dealership and dream “someday”, lucky to prepare soup for dinner with 20, lucky to sit by our pond sipping wine, lucky to light happy lights around our house. we were lucky to see the sun come up through the windows east of our pillows, lucky to see the sun go down through the trees on the trail. i was lucky to hear even a tiny text from both beloved kiddos, lucky to 3-way-hug with d and dogdog, lucky to stand at the kitchen table and miss my sweet momma.
to spend a few more minutes relishing might carry me a little further down the road, a little further away from big worries. each thing a bit of ballast, stabilizing, centering, grounding me, dandying me with courage.
i suppose if i opened my 1977 john h. glenn high school yearbook i would find these words. in fact, i am almost positive i would find them. scrawled in pen by more than one friend, on the big white space of the inside hard-cover or the inside back-cover, maybe across the page for the art and literary magazine. there would be other sage phrases too…like “life is a journey, not a destination”…as if there was a what-to-write-in-a-yearbook handbook or maybe taken directly from the blue mountain arts meaningful-phrases calendars of the time. my personal favorites were the susan polis schutz/stephen schutz calendars, books, bookmarks…the colors and shapes of the seventies. pause for a sigh…
hiking on our trail, i am whipping my camera left to right, capturing the gorgeousness of the underbrush, trees in their green glory, a very-blue sky.
the litter almost under my footfall gets my attention. it’s not just paper.
this time, it’s a succinct message – kitschy as heck – but, alas, to the point. “cherish yesterday. live for today. dream of tomorrow.”
i try to decide. do i pick it up, as litter? do i leave it for someone else to read?
because i have been privy to the wisdom of the 1970s – in print form, not just IGs or memes or jpgs, i left it. i thought that someone might need to pick it up, tuck it into their pocket, keep it on their bedside table or tape it to their mirror.
who doesn’t need a reminder to truly cherish yesterday? who doesn’t need a reminder to truly live for today? who doesn’t need a reminder to truly dream of tomorrow?
keeping the late late summer cherry tomatoes together will stimulate their ripening, i read. the ethylene emitted by them will urge them from green to pale yellow to orange to red. putting them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple would speed things along. right now, they are on the counter in a plastic, hopefully bpa-free, container, lidless, soaking up the sun. somehow, these tiny little tomatoes, regardless of size or shape or green innocence or red wokeness know all about impact on each other and a banana or an apple entering their tomato-only-zone would only help them.
that’s the kind of community we should all live in, work in, play in. because as barry manilow, yes, the guy who writes the songs, said, “everything you say and do is having an impact on others.”
it’s not like we are not aware of that. simple kindnesses as we go about our day make a huge difference – the concentric circles ever-widening, cherry-tomato-land goodness spreading, stimulating ripening, encouraging more goodness. it’s not as pollyannaish as it sounds. in every interaction we have a choice. the expression “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that/handled that” is worthy of our attention.
i’m from new york. growing up on long island is different than growing up in the midwest or the south or even the west coast. there is a rat-a-tat kind of rhythm to conversation there. lots of questions, lots of words. it seems aggressive, but it’s really not. it is, however, easy to interpret it that way. if you want to know about something, you ask. it’s a kind of pummeling with questions; you don’t ask one gentle question and patiently wait.
take the cherry tomatoes, for example. you could ask, what kind of cherry tomatoes are those? (and then wait.) or you could ask: what kind of cherry tomatoes are those?where did you get them?were they from seeds or tiny plants?how did you plant them?did you have to use topsoil?how much water did you give them?how often?do you have to fertilize them?what about sun?do they need to be in the sun?how long did it take before they bore fruit?do they only produce one set of tomatoes or do they keep producing?are they sweet?did you pick them before they were ripened?what about when it got cold?when did you pick the green tomatoes?how did you know what to do with them?can you still eat them?will they ripen?
i’ve had to tone down the newyork in me, slow down the question-pummeling (this is not as easy as it sounds), soften the edges of speech a little. the accent has mostly disappeared, but the rhythm is ever at-the-ready, prepared to garner answers or information or directions, not willing to miss the details. and those details…ever-important. my big brother could tell a story with more words than you can imagine; his details were picture-painting and precise and i loved every minute of his newyork style of storytelling.
we were on long island with my dear friend crunch when he was ordering a pizza. he said: “do you want gahhlic knots with the pizza?whatdyathink, gahhlic knots too?yes or no?are you hungry for gahhlic knots?they make great gahhlic knots at luigis. do you want some?tell me, i gotta awwduh. hello?” and then, in the car on the way to get the pizza and the garlic knots: “ya gotta turn up here.yeah, turn left.yeah after the driveway, turn left.here.left.ok.in about two blahhcks you’ll turn right.right.yeah, about a block now.right.uh-huh.right.yeah.hee-uhh.right.turn.ya gotta turn!”
david was losing it in the backseat. i had jumped right in. suddenly the impressionable pattern returned and i was also speaking, stepping all over crunch narrating where i was to turn. allowing no time for him to keep talking or answer anything i was saying – and vice-versa – we both just kept tawwwking and tawwwking, over each other. david’s laughter was contagious.
there had been (and have been, who am i kidding?) times – admittedly – when, in the middle of a more shall-we-say “heated” discussion d has looked at me and said, “let me finish.” hanging out on long island in the middle of pummeling vocal patterns has helped him realize i mean no harm. and i have adopted his “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that”. because it has an impact – the way we answer, the way we handle stuff.
we both try to be aware, in this still-covid time of much-togetherness and less-time-with-others, of our interactions, knowing that even the slightest acidity can affect things and will ripple outward in our day. instead of leeching negativity into each other, in the most intimate and the most community of interactions, i would rather encourage ripening, blossoming, flourishing.
we were the only ones in the balcony. it had been a long time since we had sat in a church balcony together – almost a year – but this was an inviting and warm place, filled with good energy. filmy fabric draped over the light fixture in the center, rainbow pieces of gauzy weave, floating high above the pews below us which were full; so many people there to celebrate nancy’s life.
i’ve played for a lot of funerals and been to my own share of sitting-in-the-front-row services. it is sometimes hard to find family or friends to participate in the celebration of life that a service affords. people will attend, but they’d rather sit and watch than speak. this service was different. it appeared that there was not any difficulty wrangling volunteers to read or speak or sing or play. each participant seemed eager to share, grateful to be a part of the celebration.
up there in the balcony we sat, holding hands, tears coming to our eyes time and again. the service was gorgeous, the words eloquent, the music heartfelt, the praises for this amazing woman lofty. stories of her gardens, her flowers, her travels, her cooking, her zeal. and, over and over, the words “joy”, “light” and “love” were used. over and over.
to be at that service was to walk away with learnings and how appropriate that is for nancy, heidi and gretchen’s beautiful momma. we talked about it in littlebabyscion on the way home, driving about an hour and a half, reliving and relishing the time we had just spent. for over and over we learned that in the complexity of life – the very goods and the very bads, the blissful and the devastating, the extraordinary and the ordinary – this woman held space in her heart for both. she wrapped both in her arms, balancing and gracefully retaining her footing in the world, and carried on, always choosing to do more, experience more, feel more, love more. the stories of her vast heart were inspiring. the slide show following the benediction was a gift to watch. two-thirds of the way through i was moved to see a front-of-the-chancel-screen-sized photo of myself, laughing and embracing nancy. a part of the story. yes, no matter the size of star, no matter how satellite, we are all a part of the narrative, a part of love.
after hugs to those dear to us, we walked outside, the word “wow” on our lips. we got in and sat quietly for a few minutes. i looked over at d and said, “makes you wanna go do more stuff, doesn’t it?” he looked back, “yeah, it does.”
mostly, though, it makes me realize that – once again – that it is possible to sit in it all and to steadfastly stay centered, for all things to coexist in our hearts…the things that sadden us or make us giddy, the things we regret and the things we are proud of, the things we hold close and the things we have given wings, the hardest things and the easiest things. for dark and light to coexist. as heidi said, in a powerful tribute to her mom, “both belong.”
and the wisest angels, holding hands with her mom, nodded.
the tomato plants are coming to an end. the temperatures are dipping at night and, three times now, we have covered them in plastic to keep them warm, encouraging them a few more days, a few more days.
i’ve read up on what to do with all those green cherry tomatoes. i know the time is near. i’ll put them all in a brown bag with a banana, hoping that the ethylene gas released by the banana will aid in the ripening of those tiny green orbs. i’m not anxious to pull the plants out of the pots and clear the potting stand. it all feels like it went by fast. but there is no doubt that fall is here. the sun isn’t bathing the barnwood stand in light anymore and there are not happy red tomatoes beckoning picking each day.
regardless, our tiniest of farms was a grand success and we are looking forward to having a repeat season next summer, maybe with a few additions besides the tomatoes and basil and a little more wisdom.
the thing we guess for sure that helped was the nurturing. every morning we greeted those sweet plants, watering gently and snipping off stems of browned leaves. we watched carefully as they grew, adding support for the branches, checking for disease, trying to provide the most positive environment for their growth. since we are not tomato or basil plants ourselves, clearly, we intrinsically knew that most of the work would be done by these tiny living things, most of the wisdom would come from them and we would follow their lead, researching to aid them and not deter them, to encourage them and not quash them, to provide all the essentials for them and not undermine them with anything toxic, to extol goodness on them and not to be aloof or reckless.
it occurs to me that these are likely ingredients for any successful growth. in a garden, in a family, in a community, in an organization or business. it’s too often nurturing goes by the wayside. i think of all the fine meals nurturing these little tomatoes and basils provided. i think of all the bursting-with-possibility families provide each other. i think of the fantastic synergy of a community based on wholeheartedly and without prejudice nurturing each other. and i think of all the collaborative, congenial camaraderie, the good work done by an organization actually based on truth, transparency, nurture and goodness.
we are each other’s best rant-stoppers. sometimes we can stop it at the gate and sometimes we can just sort of sway the after-effects at the other end of the crescendo. either way, we have found that we are pretty well equipped – specifically balancing for each other – to offer consolation or lighthearted redirection or nudges of positivity or reminders to not get stuck in a maelstrom of yuck. if none of that works, then a midnight bowl of cereal might do the trick.
in the moment it may not be so funny, but, sometimes, looking back on a venting-rant and, always, promises to never-rant-again are pretty doggone hilarious.
sidewalk chalk is pretty cheap. we have several little buckets of it, all different colors, chunky and at the ready.
one day last week some good parent brought out the sidewalk chalk and some delightful children wrote on the sidewalks on 7th avenue. walking our ‘hood, we were two of the recipients of their light-blue messaging.
“i just wanted to say you look awesome,” the sidewalk said to us. it was a hot day and i had on old multi-colored patchwork shorts and a sleeveless top seemingly older than the hills, thinning flipflops from old navy, humidity-messy-curly hair and a hot-flash-aided-shall-we-say-glistening-face. i felt anything but awesome. but this message made me smile. it reminded me of heidi’s sweet momma who said, “you will never be any more beautiful than you are right now.” wise words.
positive messages are free. it doesn’t cost any one any thing to say something positive. it doesn’t detract from any serious issue at hand; it doesn’t lessen the issuer’s importance. instead, it sets up concentric ripples of goodness, of kindness, of value to each person it touches.
“there are a hundred ways they could have said that,” david would say. indeed, a hundred ways to go about doing each moment in life. probably way more than a hundred. and yet, so often, people passing, people in relationship, people in power choose a way that is toxic, that demeans others, oppresses others, suffocates others, debilitates others. so often they choose aggression, argumentative, antagonistic words or actions.
someone in power once said to me, “i’m sick and tired of you.” it was the moment he jerked the heart-string i had to the organization, the moment i realized that all his negativity was intentional; it was toxic, demeaning, oppressive, suffocating and debilitating, not to mention shocking. i wonder what other 99 things he could have said, the other 99 ways he could have acted. i wonder what message he would have chalked on the sidewalk.
appreciation of each other, our beloveds, our friends, our colleagues, our community, this world, is contagious. its goodness is seed for growth, for collaboration, for mutually existing on this good earth in actual harmony.
simple words, spoken gently, simple acts of valuing, can make the difference in a person’s day. whether or not we intimately know that person seems irrelevant. to believe that we have made someone smile, have made someone breathe easier, have made someone’s day better, have inspired someone to pass it on, is irrefutably virtuous. to be optimistic, recognize others in their success, to stand in even-keeled integrity, to bring tender and honest concern, are traits of wisdom. to believe that we have softened a circumstance, diffused a conflict, dispersed anger is actual power.
and goodness begets goodness, in the long run.
for power does not come from negativity and control. instead, it comes from positivity and generosity, from empowering others rather than pushing them down. it comes from not thinking one is righteous, but instead recognizing one’s fallibility, one’s flaws. it comes with recognizing we all have much to learn. it comes when simplicity and kindness come together, in both random and intentional acts.
ask the little kids with the light-blue sidewalk chalk. they seem to really know that.
the clock read 2:39am when i finally looked at it. i had been awake for some time already. because sleep remained elusive, i listened to the birds as they woke up to be with me, to be sure that i would know that the sun was soon rising, that the day was starting. 4:45 came and went. sleep stayed at bay and every thought that was ever present stayed wide awake. the white miniblinds glowed to the east. the sounds of the world waking: mourning dove coos, chattering squirrels, cawing crows, tiny finches, maybe a cardinal, maybe a blue jay, a lumbering train, robins, always songbird robins.
though deep slumber is a personal favorite of mine, i did not mind the night last night. the pondering of life, the listening, the sighs of dogdog and his paws running in his dream – all were a pre-coffee tapestry and i knew, as the sun rose and i finally drifted for a bit, that this day will blanket me with goodness. particularly if i sing. the dogdog song, all the incorrect lyrics of songs from the 70s i would sing back then at the top of my lungs, any random song that occurs to me, any song i invent in the moment.
for there is something about spontaneous singing, something about the making-up of lyrics or the repetition of well-worn lyrics spun into space that changes things. poetry in air. the frequency of happiness, of joy, of breaking into song changes what is happening in you, around you, sending its waves out, out, out.
i do believe in kindness. i do believe in mischief. and i do believe in singing. any old time. mary oliver and i might have sat together and chatted over tea, for we would have agreed about all matters of joy. and, even though mary and i never tipped cups or glasses, i consider all with whom i have, especially as dark turns to light and i am wide-awake and snug under blankets in a window-open-chilled room. i was lucky to sit with andrea, a love-filled free-spirit poet, songstress of peace. i have been lucky to sit with joan, thoughtful writer and ardent reader, her wisdom resonates and lingers in my pondering. i have been lucky to sit with susan, in her kitchen, writing songs with words and good food and cakes and so much music. i have been lucky to sit with jim, music at the ready, joined with him in improvisational weaving. i am lucky to sit each day with david, a word devotee, think-provoker, slow-dancer, and now, spontaneous singer.
the sky is brilliant and cloudless as i write this on sunday morning for monday. the sun is golden. the sound of the keys of two laptops punctuates my thoughts. a mug of coffee gets cold next to me as i type, as i am lost in musing. i think to the day ahead.
though my routine has been upheaved in recent months, though good sleep has been in hiding, though there are many things to worry about, to wonder about, this day begs my attention. it begs good mischief. it most certainly begs kindness, as the universe is full of goodness and has been gloriously kind. this day begs to be sung to.
even if i don’t sing aloud. because the songs are there with me just waiting to be chosen, to float.
so i’ve decided that there is a difference between us and our pets. you roll your eyes and think, “she is clearly a little slow on this…” but i’m not just stating the obvious. i watch dogdog and babycat through their days and find wonder in their absolutely joy-filled acceptance of the moment. for dogdog and babycat, there is no continuum of how-am-i-going-to-feel-right-now; it is simply always at the apex of ‘happy’.
dogdog runs around the backyard gleeful. our neighbor and friend john says he can practically hear him thinking, “oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” he meets us at the back door when we arrive back home or when we ask him if he wants to “go on errands”, vertical-jumping to challenge the best of basketball players. at the end of the evening, when he is sure it is time for “sleepynightnight”, he rolls over for a treasured ‘belly-belly’; nothing else matters to him at that moment. all of his actions are based in the moment. all of them assume the best.
if babycat can’t be laying curled up next to you, he seeks the sun and follows it around the house. he sits on the chest in front of the window (just as in this drawing of chicken marsala and babycat) and gazes outside, clearly enchanted by everything ‘out there’. he gets most excited by mealtime and a ‘treat’ will literally make him come running and put him over the top. all of his actions are based in the moment. all of them assume the best.
why is it that we function so differently? why is it that we cannot assume the best? we tend to pre-form our view about our day, our challenges, our life, our conversations, our relationships, our, well, most everything. we drag all the old baggage along with us, all of which contributes to heavy-hearted-difficult-to-circumvent-or-navigate negative assumptions of what is to come. what would it be like for us – as individuals, as couples, as families, as a community, as a country, as a world – to assume the best? to assume awe?