there is nothing, weather-wise, that dogdog likes better than snow. he is invigorated by it. he’s not particularly fond of rain and he is definitely not a heat-wave dog. but snow is a different story entirely. when asked, “what’s keeping you in wisconsin? why wouldn’t you want to move to florida?” i have to answer, “the dog doesn’t want to live in a hot clime.” period. i mean, really – every summer – he suffers (cue up maria portakalos in mybig fat greek wedding – “she suffers” as i cannot write the word without hearing her voice.)
as i write this, dogga is at the end of the bed, curled up on the quilt, sleeping. he’ll be ten this year and that is astounding to us. he is slowing down a bit, sometimes acting like an older dog. but there is nothing that makes him seem younger than a good snowfall. running out, he eats the snow off the deck, licking it – like a sensational ice cream cone – as he goes. we look out the window to let him back in and there he is, curled up in the snow, covered in giant flakes, happy as a clam. snow is his gig. it floats his boat. it’s his cup of tea. it makes him happy, gives him the energy of a puppy, it’s his thing.
i wonder if we are as wise as this. our snowdog is not thinking about his reaction to snow. he’s not analyzing it or weighing its costs v benefits. dogga is not wondering if it will last or when the snow will melt, thereby rendering him snowless and less blissful. he is not asking when it might snow again, banking on the next time, forgoing some of the joy of this time. he is just out there, laying in it – full-out, napping, accumulating snowflakes like seconds of ecstasy. he’s fully immersed in something he loves, paying no mind to the rains of spring or the heat of the summer, unconcerned about the turn of the seasons. he is simply in snow and he is happy.
the pragmatic side of my brain says, “of course. this is logical,” while the other side is grasping onto the silky threads of hopeful and wishing to call mr. rogers – does the other side have cell service, i wonder.
it’s in looking back that it is easier to see the gradient shading of end and beginning, one into the other. it is easier to recognize the softer side of transition or, at the very least, the survivability of it all.
sam sifton wrote, “everything is going to be all right.” i believe he was talking about food and preparation for the thanksgiving meal. that is his wheelhouse. i prefer to generalize his words – they were sent to me by a dear friend and i am going to apply them to life and hold him to it.
and so we walk. and we look for signs. the smallest of goodnesses. tiny reminders of value. the way the sun punctuates our walk, the way blue sky makes us feel.
and we look up. the tops of the trees look different than the trunks. not stalwart and thick and steady, those branches much more fragile. yet there they are, existing in the wind and storm and warm days, rooted, all the way down.
but this is redundant. and i have spoken of the tide washing out and then back in before. the tide turning. i have metaphorized change and loss, in efforts to – maybe – temper them. but, in truth, they are raw and lay on the beach of our hearts in all the elements of our lives.
i wrote – a while back – to one of my nieces the words of my sweet momma “growing old is not for wimps”. she wrote back, “living is not for wimps.” so true. just when you think you have a little bit of it figured out…whammo! it seems that the universe may think that arrogant.
and so, we will try not to be assuming. either way. not assuming good, not assuming bad. no assumptions. just walking.
there are days that i find it stunning – the number of wisdoms quoted on memes on social media. goodness-gurus like maya angelou, dalai lama, buddha, mr. rogers, gandhi…as facebook profile pictures, cover photos, posts, instas, sage snaps. so many of these are about kindness – basic, the foundation for living in and amongst others.
the center of gravity on a seesaw is in the center of mass. two people on a beam, fulcrum pivot point in the middle, there is a place negotiated where the seesaw will balance. maybe this is the secret of interactions with others.
in too many instances it would seem that our interactions with others are out-of-balance, that they are a study in power struggle, in a quest for control. the seesaw slams into the ground as the heavyweight force succeeds in out-maneuvering the lightweight with no attempt at level. you cannot hide the heavyweight forces and think they don’t exist. the choice to let someone’s else’s side of the seesaw slam into the ground or to let them fly off the high side is conscious and real. and the goodness-gurus frown.
yet the teeters totter on and quote and proclaim and tout and proselytize and do not choose to lead by guruwisdom, ever righteous. it’s astonishing hypocrisy.
sue aikens lives alone in the most northern regions of alaska. she spends most of the year in frigid darkness, with an airstrip and a camp for those willing to brave the remote arctic. her wisdom is seemingly honed by years of introspection and sorting. she has no seesaw at her camp, but she lives everyday on the slim board that is life in those parts, always balancing with nature, with wildlife, with her own abilities and limitations. i imagine there are days that she spends on the low side of the metaphoric seesaw, trying to control her surroundings, the rises and falls, as much as possible. but i would also imagine that most of her days are spent trying to find the pivot point, equilibrium – the place where she interacts with the good earth and its inhabitants with grace and generosity and keeps the seesaw in balance. she has teetertottered in kavik over twenty years. she is clearly doing something right.
as she says, “your interactions are always your choice.”
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?
if i were to get a tattoo (not to mention the “sisu” tattoo i would love to share with my daughter) i think it might be a simple tattoo depicting the japanese practice of kintsugi: the golden repair and honoring of flaws, beauty in human brokenness. there’s no telling if i will do that. there’s also no telling if i won’t. i’m not averse to ink. i know that ink is an expression of where you are in your life, of what you believe in, of what you seek.
“age and stage,” 20 often says when we talk about the stuff of life. tight bud to full bloom to blossoms falling, petal by petal, to the dirt. all the iterations in the middle.
everything is like that, i suppose.
the first time my boots hit the wood as i crossed from backstage to the apron was memorable. i won’t forget it. each time i’ve walked to the piano, adjusted the boom mic, took a breath and started…memorable. i won’t forget. i remember being in the middle of one of my concerts, in the middle of one of the pieces…i forgot where the piece went…i was lost. i made it up. it was a solo piece; no one else had to share in my lapse of memory. i followed the theme and noodled my way through to an end no one would ever hear again. my producer hugged me and laughed later, “nice coverup.”
the pace of my walk is slower now than it used to be…steadier. now i know that no matter what, no matter the mistakes, no matter the braindrops, no matter the missed lyrics, the thinking notes…the story will get told, the bud will open and, like any artist, i will give of myself, despite of whatever i get or don’t get in return. age teaches you that it is not the return that matters. age teaches you it is in the giving.
we talked in the kitchen this morning about the work we have done in our lives. david’s paintings, hung and not hung, my music, recorded and not recorded. we talked about our youthful desire to have everything seen, everything heard…and not in a little way. we talked about how age has brought us to this place – a place where seen and heard doesn’t really matter. painted and played matters. drawn and written matters. expressed matters. received en masse doesn’t.
it really is “age and stage”. it’s not just the moments of our children, tiny beings not sleeping through the night, toddlers in terrible-two-tantrums – people reassuring us “age and stage”. it’s not just the trials of parents letting go of those adored humans who are now adults in the world, a little less access, a lot less time – people encouraging us “age and stage”. it’s not just our aging moms and dads, significant changes in ability, in perspective, in health – people comforting us “age and stage”.
it’s us. it’s our age and our stage, we are reminded. we try to fix what is broken, try to start something new, try to perfect the blossom. and we realize that it was a bloom all along. it was beautiful. it counted.
were we to be able to see – from the beginning – all the stages – the tight bud, the slightly opened petals – the bloom – the blossom falling to the ground – we might take it all more lightly, we might not cling to ideals of success and how we receive it. we might know there would be mistakes and dropped notes, lyrics mixed up and words not spoken. we might know there would be vulnerabilities and painful angsting, gorgeous improvised melodies, pictures without everything we desired, without everything coming to fruition, vamped decisions, regrets and, yes, bows. we might know that we would join with the rest of the human race on broken roads.
and we might know that the stages of our ages were all wrapped in gold.
and maybe ink.
“and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (anais nin)
it was, without a doubt, one of the holiest moments i have felt in the middle of almost ten thousand people. it was more organic and held more of a sacred hush than most church services i have attended or of which i have been a part, which is saying a lot since my professional work as a minister of music was over three decades of tenure. it was, without a doubt, something i will remember – a visceral memory – forever, probably.
matt maher was singing onstage at red rock ampitheatre, nestled in gigantic red rock formations and mountains in colorado. mostly just him and his piano, his simple but profound lyrics had everyone on their feet, arms around each other, strangers and friends all alike. moving from one song to the next, this man-who-was-not-the-headliner wove a net of love-for-humankind around us all and, for a few moments in time, we were transported to a place where love was – truly – the way.
“…and love will hold us together make us a shelter to weather the storm and I’ll be my brother’s [sister’s] keeper so the whole world will know that we’re not alone…”
the aggression of our neighbors, our leaders, our country, our world is a broken path, filled with trolls and ogres, bastardizing efforts of goodness.
this time is surely fleeting. we are reminded, sometimes cruelly, of this every single day.
i walk on dusty trails, on the cement sidewalks of our neighborhood, in the grasses of mountain meadows, on the sand of seashores, always looking, looking. our walks, our hikes – these are the places of true sanctuary. for, often, in those other places there are bellicose voices, desiring argument, pushing agenda. so instead now, we walk and breathe in the granola of the universe, under the sky of all possibility.
and in the way of nature, they appear. heart-shaped rocks, heart-shaped leaves, heart-shaped raindrops, heart-shaped puddles. reminders, always, they stop me, sometimes to pick them up, sometimes to photograph them, sometimes to just simply ponder. always, always, they give me pause…moments to think of beloveds, moments to have quiet gratitude, moments to think of love.
“love is a place
and through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
and in this world of
(ee cummings – love is a place)
though the world does not shake out the way we might choose it to be, we have the choice whether or not to reach out and put our arms around the person next to us, whether we know them or not. we can choose to be shelter for each other or we can choose to be antagonistic. we can choose to weather the storm or we can choose to be the storm.
we can choose to be alone or we can choose to be together.
“tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ (mary oliver)
we don’t really know. we rise each day, bold coffee at our lips, with curiosity. truly, what the day will bring is a mystery. the best-laid plans, well, they are only that – plans. things change and the kaleidoscope swirls around us in mere moments.
“this being human is a guest house. each morning a new arrival…” (rumi – the guest house)
and we rise again the next day…
…the day lilies and the grass blades are rising as well. through the upheaval of their dirt, the excavation of their home, the burying of their fallowed stems, the netting and straw post-waterline-replacement, they are rising anyway.
my thoughts of pulling everything up and starting fresh in the front yard came to a screeching halt when i saw them. if they are resilient enough to bright-green their way into this upheaved spring, i think i would be somewhat dishonoring to remove them. in doing so, i would miss their profound message of fortitude, of courageous no-matter-what-ishness, of their coy laughter reaching for the sun.
“you are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.”(john green – the fault in our stars)
we miss it. in the middle of our don’t-really-know days, we miss seeing the absolute stalwart root in clay we each bring. we miss the credit of finagling another chaotic day. we miss our embrace of the new arrival of mystery. we miss our own unprecedentedness.
yet there it is. rising through the netting and the straw and the mud and the excavated rocks and cement.
“on the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you…”
in an effort to grab the moments and store them away so they will be retrievable, i take photographs. i want to remember the physical surroundings, the way it feels, the way it tastes, the way it smells. pictures help me recall the visceral. they are prompts in a memory script. the “remember …” cue.
i didn’t take a picture, but, because there is nothing like an unexpected call from your adult child, when the phone rang in the middle of costco and i glanced at it to see that it was our daughter calling, the moment is indelibly ingrained in my mind. walking toward the exit, standing and chatting near the tires-for-sale, shielding the phone’s microphone from the wind as we walked to littlebabyscion, sitting in the parking lot, dogga in the back wondering what errand adventure was next…these are all part of this wonderful rambling conversation, a joy that topped off my week – a perfect friday early evening – in a way that nothing else can.
the neighborhood eatery was not far from his apartment and as we drove over, our son was in the front, directing me, nagging me about going too slowly, instructing me how to properly drive over the humps in the residential streets of chicago and getting out to check the damage when we were rear-ended at a traffic light (luckily, no injuries and no apparent damage). we discovered the joy of lobster deviled eggs, had the skinniest delectable french fries, sipped mimosas and laughed over brunch. we went to his new place, took measurements, talked about decor. i took many, many photos, my iphone always at the ready. the best belated birthday gift – this time together. nothing else can top it.
i don’t take these moments for granted. our children are adults, with busy, consuming professional lives and significant people to share time with. there’s not a lot of spare time and i get that. they don’t live in town and i don’t get to see them as often as many of my friends see their grown children. “the moment they are born the separation begins followed by a life-long balancing act,” a dear and sage friend wrote about children and motherhood. the perils of parenting.
it is often the people with children in their own town who remind me that we raise children to be independent, wingèd and free. though well-intended, these are easier words, these wisdoms, and less painful when one does not have to tamp down the embers of longing that missing beloveds creates.
i try to “think of life…in all its small component parts.” (anna quindlen) it is, truly and after all, about balance.
so i save every one i can. every moment and conversation, all eye contact and every hug. i take lots of pictures – of them, of me with them, of us with them, of the surroundings, of what is right around me when i am with them. it is a storehouse of riches that i may go to in a self-absorbed minute of feeling scarcity, a reminder that, indeed, life is full, nevertheless. a springboard of deep appreciation.
“exhaust the little moment. soon it dies. and be it gash or gold it will not come again in this identical disguise.” (gwendolyn brooks) glory in either, for we learn the lesson over and over: you can feel it. and they all count.
i “try to look at the view.” (anna quindlen)
the view – that must be why i have twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight photos on my phone. twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight views of twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight moments.
and this one – the open-beamed ceiling of cherished brunch with my son.
it was 1999 and bugdom reigned supreme, rollie pollies and ladybugs and fire ants all in the computer game kingdom, with plenty of other-bugs helping and undermining rollie mcfly. it was the early days of games with such vibrant graphics and i distinctly remember being wowed by such a ground-level view of the world.
the chipmunks are in their glory these days. our birdfeeder is always a draw; they have it all figured out. sometimes i wonder about their perspective on the world, these tiny adorable creatures, so low to the ground, scampering here and there. what it must be like when you are in the grass and you can only really see a little bit ahead and, if you turn your head to the sky, up. they don’t seem to mind that they have no real big picture. perhaps that is why they seem so happy-go-lucky and intent on the tasks at hand. over and over they will stock up their tiny cheeks, puffing out and puffing out, and then run across the patio and dart under the deck. again and again. they are not thwarted by the repetition of it all. they just keep on keeping on.
we had a really fun visit with our son the other day. in chicago, on a cubs’ game day, we wove our way through wrigleyville and lakeview neighborhoods to see the new place he would be moving. a cool two-story lofted apartment, it was a bright and happy place. he measured the space for furniture, calculating what he already had that would fit and what new items he would need. he’s done this a few times before, so he is very adept at the whole figuring-out stuff thing. both my children have already moved more times in their lives than i have in my entire life. they are much better at paring down and settling in to a new place than i am.
he mentioned that he would need an ant trap, which, for some reason, surprised me. “yeah,” he said, laughing, “there are ants in the city.” and, apparently, you need to be aware on the ground floor. then, in a told-you-so moment, he pointed to the tiniest ant on the sliding glass door wall. waaaaay high up on the wall this ant crawled. perspective-wise, were we to be crawling and were you to do the math equation proportionately, we would be on everest. nevertheless, the ant kept going. i wanted to bring it outside, but he assured me it would find its way. poor thing. it was a vast sea of white paint and all straight up and down. even bugdom wouldn’t have prepared the ant for this; bugdom was all outside – a lawn, a pond, a forest, a garden and an anthill.
the other day i saw a brown marmorated stink bug (known colloquially as simply “stink bug” and with the acronym “bmsb”). it was on an outside screen window crawling up. now, these poor bugs are not people-biters, but they are surely named properly and no one wants them around. i don’t know where it was going either. i can’t imagine why it would want to be up on the roof, so i’m guessing it was somewhat lost. when you can’t see beyond the screen, it’s hard to find your way.
we are fortunate, we humans. we have amazing prowess to be able to see the horizon. if it isn’t visible, if the horizon isn’t clear, we have the ability to climb higher to seek a better view, an overlook. though i suspect that some opinions are formed at dirt level, most of us seek the air and space to sort through what’s in front of our noses and see the bigger picture. our kingdom isn’t limited to the next grass blade.
rather, we have every advantage for gaining knowledge, learning alternate viewpoints, overcoming a narrow frame of reference, understanding the synergy of working together. we can form educated points of view, evaluate the difference between truth and falsehood, choose compassion and kindness as our stance toward others.
we can see blades of grass AND the landscape of the lawn.
more importantly, we can see the forest AND the trees.
we are not fancy-schmancy froo-froo types. we don’t have chandeliers or swagging silk curtains. we don’t have china or sterling silver utensils. we don’t have a matchy-matchy dining room set or linen tablecloths graced with taper candlesticks. but we do have rich dining experiences, nevertheless.
whether at our cozy table in our old kitchen – the square one that my sweet poppo refinished in our basement – the one with a couple white painted legs dogga chewed on as a puppy – the one that i had to wipe clean every week as babycat would rub up against it leaving a dander mark – the one that my babies sat by in their high chairs and that many a cuppajava was sipped….or at the covid table in the sunroom – the one with snakeinthegrass and leticia and nonámē and stubby and boston and, now, charlie – the one with happy lights and tealights – the one looking out back….or at the big table in the dining room – the one with the memories of big gatherings and games played and pass-the-mashed-potatoes and pasta dinners…any table, it doesn’t matter. we sit together and, in our together, are grateful for the chance to prepare our meal and share it.
we choose our plates carefully. it might be a white crock night or a black plate night or maybe kenandloida colorfully-painted ceramic bowls or small plates. the vessel matters. and so do the cloth napkins. no matter what we are having for dinner – vegetable soup or a tagine or plant-based meatloaf – we try to pay attention to dining and not just eating.
we can count the number of times we have been dining inside a restaurant since before the pandemic – on one hand. it has been for very specific reasons – mostly our children, but once, the up-north gang, freezing from winterfest, gathered indoors at a pub to sip drinks and gorge on kettle corn. these times have been rejuvenating and joyfilled, though i have to say, blame-it-on-covid, i usually count the days hence. sigh.
regardless, our two-years-heading-into-the-third have not been without a richness that comes with choosing to make a big deal out of meals. nothing lavish, but still meaning-affluent. nothing opulent, but still flush with deliciousness. nothing fancy-schmancy, nothing froo-froo, but dining. definitely dining.