if the price tag had not read $9.99, i would have purchased this tiny stake sign. but, at that very moment, despite the it-made-me-pick-it-up marketing, $9.99 seemed a tad bit high for a five inch tall sign. still, ridiculously cute.
our sunroom is filled with plants – everything from an exploding ponytail palm to stalwart tiny cactus twins “the dots”, to charlie, the heart-shaped leaf philodendron to snakeinthegrass sansevieria to kc, my difficult bonsai gardenia. kc is my problem plant-child. i mist kc, i use distilled water, i have fed it and keep the bottom tray filled with moisture, i turn it to face the sun. despite my attempts to have conversation, to really share life – for i talk to it every single day – kc is stubborn. next i will seek specific bonsai gardenia plant food – there are several options online. i’ll probably do some research to really determine the proper way to nurse this treasured plant back to good health. i’m not sure where i went wrong and it means so much to me that kc will be healthy and will grow – unfettered and with wild abandon. my relationship with this tiny plant has become a challenge.
you would think, had i purchased the tiny sign, that i would have placed it in one of the burgeoning clay planters. there’s a posse of plants responding to being nurtured. you would think that the e.s.p. of choice might be one that is flourishing.
but it’s not so. i, for sure, would have placed the stake into kc’s pot. for this plant – despite its complexity – is dear to me and is most definitely my emotional support plant. kc is a tiny slice of real life, a little unrooted, a little nutritionally off. when i got it, there were two buds on it. they never opened and, instead, fell to the dirt. my nurturing is not quite right yet. something is not quite right. feeling a little defeated, i keep trying to figure it out.
one of these days, i hope, i will walk into the sunroom and a tiny bud will have formed. and then – the day it begins to slowly blossom – i will know that i have done something right, something that touched it, something that let this little plant know its cherished place in my heart. its bloom will open and i will know that kc is ready and present – with me.
in the meanwhile, i will just keep on keeping on, trying to be steady and, just off to the sidelines, giving it unconditional love. i’m trying to be patient and let it do its own thing, while i quietly do everything in my heart to support it. i am rooting for this bonsai every day and i know that the bloom that will someday come will be inordinately beautiful, exquisite in every way.
that babycat would be 14 today. it’s an unofficial birthday because he just showed up and no one was there to tell us all about his birth, about the litter of kittens he was from, about his momma or his papa. february 28 was the day chosen for him and we celebrated it – and him – each year.
it’s been almost two years since he became an angel-cat. and, in the way that our sweet pets profoundly impact us, we miss him every day. our babycat had a big presence in our home and lives. he still does.
i just read an article about love written by neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo in which she reminded the reader that it indeed is “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”. all love. including our amazing animals, i’d insist.
though his own life was not nearly as long as i wished it to be, babycat saved mine. his tiny heart in the universe changed me.
roller-coaster-soap-opera-never-a-dull-moment-ever-changing life gifts us with people along the way.
some of them are in it – with us, as it’s said, for a season. we fill each other’s cups with the companionship of friends or loved ones, but time has a way of placing itself between people and proximity of place or heart push at the ability to spend time. schedules and responsibilities and changes interrupt the flow together and we drift.
some people are in it – with us – for specific reasons. they are colleagues, they are universe-drop-ins who walk alongside as we grow and evolve, in our work, on a walk we have chosen, a trail we have been set upon. they stop at waysides as we travel on and we lose touch.
others are just there. they may be constant companions; they may be in-and-out. but, whenever we wish or they wish, they are there and we are there. they ride the coaster with us, laugh with us, ponder with us, cry with us, get pissed with us, celebrate with us. we share stories, we share the truth, we share disappointments, challenges, impossible summits. it can be weeks, months, years and it is just as easy. they are touchstones in our lives and, likely, always will be. we spend time together and time apart, but they are never far away. they are our posse. and we could not do life without them.
we stopped on the trail and i sat on a bench, pulling off the boots that were making my feet beyond sore. jen offered her socks; she offered her boots. instead of rendering her shoe or sock-less, i used her bandaids. we loaded up my feet with bandaids and i didn’t tie the boots, clomping through a few miles in the snow, curling my toes to keep them from falling off. i whined about it and i apologized for whining about it. and i promised that next week – in our next hike – i would wear different boots. two times hiking in these was enough. we talked about feet most of the way back, for there is not much we won’t discuss – at length. brad yawned through my health insurance rant, but he listened intently anyway. we cheered with dark beer and brandy-old-fashioned-sweets at a neighborhood bar next to the railroad tracks. we made plans and talked about life and the previous week, another episode in the sitcoms and serial drama miniseries of our lives. right there, listening and caring. there.
we’ll have snacks at happy hour – though it will be followed shortly by a huge dinner together. but we all love to eat and the up-north gang does it well. we’ll talk about everything under the sun and we’ll laugh. nothing is off the table as we all age together, listing the things we are concerned about. we are an all-inclusive in-service about all that stuff, comparing notes, making recommendations, giving advice. it’s totally reassuring. we know who to call if – any time of day or night – there is water in the basement or if the tv antenna falls or if we need new tires or a pair of glasses. there. they are right there.
the perch a couple nights ago was done to perfection, as were the potatoes and cabbage slabs. 20 was in his glory; his wheelhouse includes fishhhh (as he says it) and cabbage. we eat together twice a week. every week. we take turns cooking and every meal includes wine and chocolate. he goes way back – 30 years almost – and his presence is a rock for us. through thick and thin he has remained steady. we keep track of the week by our mondays and thursdays together. there.
and there are those people – who can call on the phone from far away or across town – and with whom we can pick up as if no time has passed. we can laugh about the seinfeld episodes of mutual time, we can pine for time spent, we can rue how quickly time has passed. the thing we know – no matter what – is that they – and we – are there. whether we see them or not, no matter if it has been a long while, these people are always part of the very fabric of our lives and they are vital. they remember who we were, how we changed, what we went through. they know the gumption it took to get us to where we are now. they recognize us. they are from our elementary schools, our high schools, our colleges, our first jobs, our professional ladder rungs along the way. they are the people we met on airplanes, while shopping, at tennis tournaments, across the street. they are random and superbly unique and we celebrate meeting them – wherever it was. they are in our mind’s eye standing aside us through it all, whether in person or in spirit. their souls entwine with ours.
and then there are the beloveds. people whose dna is connected to ours in some way, people whose curve-of-face resembles ours, whose expressions we know by heart, without whom we would never be who we are. they are scattered, too, around the world and, though we wish – yearn – to see them often and more often, it is not so. nevertheless, they hold the prime spots in our hearts and are always right there, a breath away. our families.
so many chances to love, to feel love. so much time spent together. so much gratitude on the coaster.
“my do!!!!” he insisted. there is nothing like a two-year old insisting – with all his might – that he will do it himself. he is extremely capable – strong, smart, wily. somehow you forget how much energy a tiny child has…it just goes on and on and on until it suddenly stops and sweet sleep takes over. amazing stuff. my little great-nephew’s curiosity is divine and his giggle contagious. his stubbornness makes me laugh, but mostly because i can stand back and watch his momma and daddy handle it. their turn. and i am thrilled for them.
even though he was figuring out how to climb the jungle gym in the playground, we were there to spot him. as he learned, our hands were firm, guiding him. as he figured it out, our hands were lighter, still there, but just poised and ready. much like all of parenthood, i’m figuring out. you hold on tightly, then just firmly, then lightly, then you let go, but you are poised and ready. and, just like j, they don’t turn around to see if you are there. they just keep climbing the jungle gym steps, anxious to get to the slide, anxious to explore the rest, anxious to play with the other kids. you are simply the spotter. somewhat invisible but always there.
at the end of the days there – with this marvelous two year old – we were really tired. his spurty focus of energy staccatoed our day as well and, now that my own children are grown-up adults, was something not as familiar to us. our days are more linear with less punctuation, if you will.
but i laid awake at night anyway. i rambled through thoughts of the days when my daughter and my son were little ones with “i do” on their lips. it brought me to places i remembered clearly and places that had slipped into corners of my memory. i missed them and wished that thirty years ago cellphones had had cameras and the ability to make videos. carrying around the 35mm camera and the vhs/8mm videocameras was cumbersome; today’s parents have so many ways to remember every single thing that happens.
my niece and i talked about how motherhood has changed everything. and i told her that will never change.
she will always – now – wake thinking about this little person. and she will always – now – go to sleep with him on the blink of her eyes. she will hold tightly and then firmly and then lightly and then – in achingly beautiful and hard moments – she will let go.
but she will always be his spotter, visible or invisible, noticed or not. he may not turn around to see her there, but she’ll be there.
a large-moving-truck-sized asteroid missed the earth. apparently, not by much. npr called it a “very close encounter” and nasa said it was a “near miss”. it kind of puts things in perspective. i mean, what does anything angsty mean when all could be destroyed in a moment by a united-van-lines-projectile?
i suppose the wise among us would nod slowly at that question. they’d take a deep breath and exhale audibly before speaking. and then they’d point out that there are no guarantees – for any of it – and perhaps lighter hearts would be a better way to fly through this universe, skimming along, soaring, aerial acrobatics from moment to moment.
it’s been seven years. my sweet momma glimmered her way to heaven seven years ago and now, seven years later, we are interring her ashes. the wooden box that my brother-in-law holds gently in his hands is added to my dad’s niche in the columbarium. his ashes are in a hard cardboard heart-shaped box and my dad grins as her wooden box is added next to his, relieved that it wasn’t the other way around or my momma would have had something to say about his box being wood and hers being cardboard. nevertheless, our son said it best, “happy they are resting together.”
i brought my ukulele and a songsheet and we all gathered around and sang “always” before the niche was closed. it was simple. and short. and the service a row behind us had a twenty-one gun salute followed by taps – just in time as the caretaker replaced the granite door.
it’s sobering to be in the veteran’s cemetery. pristine and beautiful, but sobering. so many headstones. so many little granite doors.
i looked up – i wanted to remember the sky – perhaps the heavens – the moments we stood there, after. the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze.
my sweet parents whispered “thank you” to us and my momma got that stink-eye look she gets. “now go live life,” she added. and my dad reached out his hand and diverted the asteroid’s path, just a little. but enough to make a difference.
it’s a little foggy. childbirth is like that. cloudy memories.
in the stunning way of time – and how it flies – it has now been thirty years. today.
my baby boy was placed in my arms thirty years ago. it’s astonishing. i remember everything and i remember practically none of it – it is all blurry.
what i do know – just as i knew in 2020 on the thirtieth birthday of my daughter and the thing that i knew in 1990 my very first day of motherhood – is that it changed my life.
and every day since.
there is little that can color all your days, for most things are fluid and we roll with it all, hoping there is a next day – to right things, to stand back up, to move on. but motherhood doesn’t play by these rules. if you are worried about your child – regardless of their age or stage – it stays with you. it is – for me – one of the first things i think about when i wake and one of the last things i think about before sleep. it is that which will keep me pondering in the night. it is that which will find me deep in thought in the day. there is really no stopping it.
so, my sweet momma, now i get it.
all that worrying you did, all that championing, all that abiding silently by and waiting, all those pompoms – i get it.
the last time i saw my own sweet momma she was sitting on the edge of her bed, a little later in the morning than usual, still in her nightgown, going slowly, but – mostly – concerned we were not yet on the road, driving I75 and I65 and I94 back home. i don’t know if she knew that 18 days later she would be on a different plane of existence. she just worried about me…all grown up and, yet, her little girl.
i get it.
these amazing children – now both in their thirties – are still the same people about whom i have always wondered – about everything – from the tiny to the gigantic – if they need snacks, if they are healthy, if they are happy, if they are feeling valued, if their work feeds them, if they feel reciprocal love and care in their relationships. they are forging their way in the world – making a difference that only they could make – shining their own stars – with their own brilliance and their own wit and creativity and humor. life is fluid clay in their hands, fresh silly putty out of the container, playdoh with the most extraordinary cutters and fun factory presses. they are right close to the ages i was when i became their mother. in a foggy blur of time. how does that happen?
the tree seemed to be alone in the field, nothing beyond it. but because we pass that field and that tree often, we know that is not the case. it is just very, very foggy and so we cannot see.
i look back and back and back. i can’t see it all; it is foggy and very foggy and very, very foggy.
the light lit up the sky, a golden glow in a fog toward the heavens. it is one of the chicago botanic garden’s iconic displays, this tunnel of light, begging you to look up, be wrapped in its light, acknowledge the goose bumps. the luminous winter cathedral drawing people toward it. they stood, marveling, they strolled slowly, they posed for photographs, the millions of starry twinkling lights enveloping all.
i’m not much for cathedrals, really. i never have been; it’s nothing new. while i can appreciate their stunning beauty and the incredible feat it often took to build or install, they have never brought me closer to faith than any other place…outside, in the presence of others, at the piano, alone in wonder.
in my life – and in three and a half decades of my work life – i have found churches to not only house beauty. i have found churches to also house ugly. and so, i was relieved to read the words of john pavlovitz. it is important to distinguish the difference – the building is not God. and, sometimes, the best place to find the supreme deity you are seeking – no matter the name, no matter the denomination or affiliation, no matter the book of written word – is not in a place, not in a building.
the people – so many gathered there – under the arch of the winter cathedral seemed softer. the glow of light on their faces, they moved slower, offered to photograph others, gazed up. just as a community of people in a church often do, they seemed to come together, one of the benefits of “the building”. but, as i have found time and again – and, if we are to speak truth – those benefits sometimes run out. and people within become consumed by that which would never be considered a basic tenet of faith – the hypocrisies of power and control and discrimination and subjugation and competition, toxic things that “[don’t] feel like Love anymore”*.
as i walked under the night sky i knew that the cathedral would be close to the last installation on the guided path. i steeled myself for its overtones, even with its undeniable beauty.
we stood back and watched people enter it. in awe. it is truly glorious.
we approached and there was this tiny voice inside my head naysaying “church” to the other tiny voice exclaiming “wow”. both.
yet ethereal was there and it shone down on us as we walked through to the other side. and then we were once again under a night sky, full of stars we could see and stars we couldn’t see. just like faith.
“you are fully freed to run into the wide open spaces of this world, and to experience life and faith and beauty in ways you never thought possible…”*
i think about the turtles. they are there in the warmer months, sunning on logs and rocks that jut out of the river. but, when it dips below fifty degrees or so – and stays there – they disappear. apparently, they dive down to the muddy bottom, their metabolism slows down, they require less oxygen. their mucky homes keep them safe as they bide time, these wise, long-lived creatures of the water and the land.
from time to time on the trail we look for them. we know where they hang out and have watched for telltale signs of small snouts poking out of the water. but then it got cold and we just missed them.
the river is alive with other wildlife. geese and a few hardy ducks, squirrels, deer – we see them as we hike.
but we always talk about the turtles anyway. just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean we forget about them. we know they are there – somewhere – in hidden spots, places they feel sheltered and secure. i think about what they might be doing. they are silent and the fallow is long. i trust they are sorting what is next, kind of like us.
he can tell you i worry about them, despite the fact that i know they are completely capable, totally self-sufficient, quite brilliant actually. nevertheless, i am more comforted by seeing the turtles every now and then – at least – than by wondering how they are faring. time keeps moving, though, and i keep hope that when it warms up and the turtles have a more secure sense of themselves in the world they will reappear, out of the suspension of presence. i’m hoping for an early spring.
i know that the turtles are aware i am watching for them and waiting. and the river freezes. and then it thaws.
i wonder if the tree looked in the mirror and counted rings, pondering the impetus behind each one, the reasons for the wrinkles of years, ever-forming, ever-widening. it is doubtful that the tree gazed, searching the rearview mirror for clues, connective tissue, remembrances of angst or sublime moments. it seems more likely that the tree just accepted each concentric ring, the truth of time. it seems more likely that the tree recognized the steady strength it gained for each ring, the rootedness each ring-wrinkle brought to it.
it would seem that this could be a good lesson from nature for us. the natural, raw, untouched passing of time shown on our faces, each beautiful in aging. we could acknowledge the years and the easy and the hardships. we could bow to the accumulation of moments, time flying by as we gather minutes in our embrace. we could turn toward each other, accepting and without judgment, full of grace and care, measuring only our love for each other, unbiased by wrinkles or rings, color or patina. we could tenderly touch the faces of our beloveds and marvel.