Ever since I was a wee child I have a thing for gnomes. Not the ceramic kinds that live in British gardens but the magical kind that ride on birds and build houses in trees. I spent almost 3 years of my life (between the ages of 8 and 11) tromping through the woods with field journals proving the existence of these little woodland creatures. Gnomes, it seemed to me, lived in a simple but abundant world full of comfort and love and nature and goodness. I wanted to live in that world. Proving their existence meant that I too could live in such richness. Close to the earth, with everything I need at my fingertips.
While I think about gnomes often, it is rare that other people do. So I had to pause when I saw the email from the Washington Capitals of all people advertising a “Nicklas Backstrom Gnome Giveway”. Normally I delete those emails from the Caps. Being in school now we have no budget for hockey tickets and I don’t like to be tempted. But I was curious. I mean, who makes gnomes that look like hockey players? I opened the email to see what it was about.
Nicklas Backstrom is Max’s favorite hockey player. Max loves the way Nicky passes and moves the puck around, elegantly setting up plays. When he is on his game it can be a little like watching the ballet.
Max said, “Mom, when the Universe combines my favorite hockey player and your favorite magical creature it must be a sign”. Or maybe a wonderful excuse to throw budgets and concerns about school nights spent in the city to the wind and instead do something joyful and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the gnomes calling us, but we miraculously found last minute tickets for a cheap(ish) price we haven’t seen in years. Yes–the tickets were high up in the rafters but we were going to see a hockey game!
Max and I rode the metro down to the game with delight. This unexpected hockey game, these wonderful little gnome dolls we would get at the door, it all felt like such a luxury, a miracle. We were royalty headed to that game, rich and carefree. We got to the game really early so that we could be among the first through the gates, collected our gnomes and headed down to glass to watch warm-ups. It’s such a treat, especially when our seats are in the uppermost tier to get down to watch the players so close up. What a guilty pleasure to be so close to such speed. We hung out behind the goal while they warmed, flinching as the pucks hit the glass, marveling at the strength and speed of the players. It was already a full night of juicy goodness by the time the whistle blew ending warm ups and the ushers moved us out into the hallway. How could it possibly get better?
We got in line to to ride the escalators up to the top tier to our seats so high in the stands. “Mom,” Max laughed. “Let’s act really crazy so we can win the Ameritel Move of the Game”. That’s a contest where the spunkiest of fans in the Upper Tier win tickets to move down to the the Lower Level. “OK” I giggled with enthusiasm. “Let’s get our silly on!”
As we turned the corner, about to step on the escalator, a stranger in the crowd touched my sleeve. “Are you on your way up to the 400s? ” he asked. And then, just like that, he handed me his tickets. “Take these for you and your son. They are great seats”. He was invited up to a meeting on the club level and didn’t want his tickets to go to waste. He wanted someone to enjoy them. He picked us. And suddenly we were rink side–just rows away from the glass.
“MOM…We just won the Move of the Game” Max said. “Not the Ameritel Move of the Game but God’s Move of the Game.”
Tears filled my eyes. God’s Move of the Game. So simple. Be joyful. And everything moves.
It is so easy to believe we live in a world of scarcity. In a world were there is not enough–enough time, enough money, enough love and support. It is so easy to believe that we live in a world where comfort and joy are things that are earned through hard work and struggle. Everything about the way our culture is set up seems to suggest it.
And yet, as a child, tromping through the mud searching for tiny footprints I learned that joy and goodness were right outside in my backyard. The gnomes’ world of abundance and simple treasures was always accessible–it was simply a matter of stepping into it. I could get lost for hours in that kind of abundance. And then I grew up.
It is a relatively new practice for me to learn to see abundance everywhere–to let go of my stories about struggle and open my eyes to goodness that arrives when we show up and do our work (whatever our work may be) with pure joy. To see the spontaneous meetings with friends as gifts. To see cancelled plans as a chance to finally catch up on a long neglected project.
Truth is Max and I would have had the night of our life sitting up high in the 400s. We would have screamed for the Caps, cheered their goals and mourned their loss with the same level of fury and abandon. We had already felt like we had won. And that I think is the secret.
Something from my childhood was calling to me this night. A message bubbling up–From the gnomes…From God…From the kindess of strangers and my own wise heart. A metaphor perhaps reinforcing this practice.
We live in abundance. Already. Right now. Not tomorrow when the house is cleaned and the homework is done. Not next year when the bills are paid. Not 10 years from now when my practice is busy and full. But now. Now. Now.
Open your eyes and step into it. The view is amazing.
Many years ago, a woman, named Odette moved into my house. She taught me about faith and courage, a special kind of faith and courage. See, Odette was separated from her babies. They were tens of thousands of miles away and they were held apart by immigration and economics and seemingly impossible obstacles. For the longest years, Odette didn’t have her own babies close but she helped me raise my baby. She was his auntie and favorite babysitter. She sat at my table and told stories and told him to eat his vegetables and cooked and sang in my kitchen while Max and I danced. And sometimes after we put him to bed, I’d hug her and we’d cry together, thinking about her girls so far away.
One spring night, in a fit of possibility, a group of us held a party of the most magical sort. The girls were sick but we thought, in a moment of optimism, we could get them here. We raised thousands of dollars that night as bands played and we danced and mamas and papas stuffed money into shoe boxes. Thousands that could pay for their care and would one day help bring them home.
It was a long way from that party to the homecoming, to the magical day that Odette wrapped her arms around the girls she missed so much. Odette never gave up faith. There were many more moments like that party. Small moments (and big pushes) that paid expenses we never would have thought an immigrant mother could bear. Through networks far bigger than those here in our little neighborhood, through the courage of a friend who used all her super powers, through lawyers who work miracles and through hundreds of people who gave something tangible and real, those girls found their way home to their mama. In the darkest of days, with the worry and the pain, Odette and her girls were being carried in the arms of all the mamas who loved their babies.
Yes, through that experience, I learned about faith. Not about a kind of faith that is ethereal. The kind of faith that comes when hundreds of people recognize that their own divine generosity and create the way forward with a dollar or two or ten, their talents, something tangible. Love enfleshed.
When I was deciding to go to acupuncture school, my greatest fear was that I would lose my job or my health insurance, for one reason, and one reason alone. I had visions of myself at Max’s bedside, unable to pay for care he might have needed, imagining that desperate, helpless feeling I know many impoverished mothers know, that feeling of not being able to help him get well, that feeling of having to watch him suffer for lack of resources. When he cut himself on a rusty fence, when he banged himself up in hockey, I doubled over in gratitude for the insurance and the money in the bank and I paralyzed myself from moving forward with questions about WHAT IF? In those moments, Odette’s story reminded me that there are no guarantees, other than that love shows up actively in some way shape or form. If I was faced with the worst, well, I would need to have faith in God. I knew that sometimes that God shows up as a network of mamas. I one-by-one counted my band of soul sisters who would stand fiercely with me if my boy was in danger and leapt. I haven’t lost my insurance or my job but I know if I did we would find a way.
If I had any doubt about this lesson, my first day of school, my teachers gave me language to understand it clearly. They taught me to not refer to my child as “mine”. They said, the children belong to all of us. It is their world that we are creating together. While Max he came to the world through me, he is not mine. He is ours. All the babies are ours. And we are all the mamas.
Yes. Faith is love enfleshed. And Love is not a sentiment. It is an action.
I have been recently reminded of these stories and faith that is love enfleshed by another story. This is the story of another mama, this one someone I do not know–though I love those who love her. She is living a version of that nightmare of mine. She is afraid for her child’s life. She cannot wait for insurance to kick in. She is not sure how she will get her the treatment she needs but she is doing everything she can. And yet, while she labors to birth a new life for baby, she saw that she was not alone. She spoke her prayers out loud, and the Universe answered not with a fancy big solution but with a simple network of mamas and papas, aunties and uncles, love enfleshed into action. Women and men contributing small amounts, in partnership with the mama who birthed her, building a path forward for her daughter, (our daughter) brick by brick. Creating, together, a world in which she can live. In the last few days, her friends, family and strangers have raised money for several days of the treatment that can save her life.
Watching it unfold gives me so much hope, so much faith, moves me to tears. And yet there is more to do.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking about all the children of the world who suffer and I think that I cannot help all of them. And then I remember if I just do what is in front of me, it is enough.
Right now, in front of me, there is a precious child named Asia. She is our child, brought to us through her mama, named Mani. If you have found your way here, she is in front of you too. She is yours.
This is a kind of faith. Love enfleshed. Love as action. I lean into it and want to see it grow.
I was born on the 18th day of September. I have always loved the number 18 and been delighted how it, through ancient Hebrew, connects to the word “LIFE”. I wonder right now what would happen if we all took whatever prayers we may be whispering and enfleshed them with LIFE in the form of $18 or some other multiple of 18. How many more days of healing might it create, not just for Asia but for but for all of us who will be healed when we see prayers answered in the most simple of ways.
You can be part of this here. You can whisper your prayers for LIFE and then answer them.
About a month ago, I was laying here in bed, listening to the sound of the rain, just as I am doing right now. And then over the comforting pitter patter that had me almost asleep, I heard a kitten crying outside. I checked to make sure it wasn’t one of my cats, rolled over, turned off the lights and went to sleep.
I really want you to think that I am the kind of person who ran right out, then and there and brought that kitten in. But I didn’t. It broke my heart to hear her cry in the cold and yet, I didn’t move. Fear masquerading as “common sense” struck. The last thing I needed was one more cat. I am already at the the human-to-cat ratio that puts me at risk for crazy cat lady status. What’s more, I immediately started playing the tape in my head that said “There is not nearly enough money in my life right now to support our merry band of humans and cats, let alone one more feline mouth”. I told myself stories that she was probably a new pet belonging to one of the neighbors and crying outside their door, having snuck out by accident. It made it easier to sleep.
The next night, Max came home from hockey practice and told me he saw a kitten. She was still shivering outside our door, skinny and cold. We could hear her meows as the dark set in. He broke down in tears. I posted to the neighborhood listserve begging the owners to come get their poor lost cat. I did my best to keep on going with my night, telling myself that someone else would step in. I told myself that by using my mad social media skills I had done my part. As I put my sobbing child to bed, I promised Max that if she was still there the next morning that I would figure something out and then secretly prayed like hell that she would find her way home.
I had no time to take in a lost kitten. The day ahead of me was packed full of far too many commitments and not nearly enough time, and I knew taking that kitten in would mean time spent making posters (“Lost Kitten”) and taking trips to the rescue league to get her checked out and money so we could give her shots and get her tested for all sorts of cat diseases so we could find out if its safe to let her mix with my cats, all the while balancing an impossible amount of work, school and mothering duties and a schedule that was already way too full. I knew taking her in would mean finding space for one more litter box and separating her from cranky older cats who don’t like change. So when I heard her cries the next morning, I was more than a little annoyed. Why my house? Why cry here? I fumed at the inconvenience. But then I remembered my promise to Max last night and a promise I made to myself a long time ago–that I would lean into love, and so I must even when it is inconvenient, even when it is messy and even when (especially when) it throws everything awry. And as I went outside and scooped her up and carried her in my house. And as I did it, I knew it was exactly what was needed. For the first time in days I felt right in myself again. I asked myself if there really was any other choice? No–not if I believed in love and the power of leaning into it.
She is curled up now next to me as I write this, purring. She cuddles up with me almost every night, defiantly pushing past the big older cats who claim time with me. Maybe she is listening to the rain now too, remembering that day she cried outside and wondered what would happen next. I’d like to say there is some happy ending to her sweet story, some Pollyana sweet finish about how we found her owner (we didn’t despite days and hours of trying) or how our home is so much happier with her here. It’s true, we have some moments of sweetness and joy thanks to her, (she is a funny cat) but in all honesty, our house is a little messier now. There is not a lot of peace in the valley with our older cats. There is a lot more hissing and broken vases. This is a lot more litter to scoop. Leaning into love isn’t always tidy or easy or warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it can be downright shitty.
And yet, thinking back, I remembered that feeling inside of me, that buzzy uncomfortable tight feeling in the center of my chest that came up when I was trying to resist doing what needed to be done. And I remembered how when I finally leaned in, the world seemed to conspire to help me get it done and that tightness disappeared.
There is a part of me that wants you to think (that wants myself to think) that this really never comes up for me, that I am the kind of girl who leans into love always. And yet, there are countless small moments when it happens. When I resist giving a compliment, or avoid a phone call, or walk past a person on the street, usually justifying it to myself that I don’t have enough time, that I am in a rush, or that something more important needs to get done, that I’m depleted. And I feel that same buzzy tight feeling in my chest.
This is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. These have certainly been some dark times. I can barely get out the word Newtown without breaking down in grief. And the bombings, wars, natural disasters that have filled the news, they weigh on me, along with the mean-spirited, “I’m drawing a line in the sand” kind of negotiations that have been going on in Washington (& other places). Closer to home, I have been dancing with facing some of my own gremlins, the kind that beg me to be kind to myself. It can be overwhelming all this darkness. And to be honest, the thing I have felt most through these dark times is fear.
That thing that stands in the way of love is not hate, but fear. Fear plays itself out in so many ways, from greed, to prejudice and yes, keeping us, keeping me from leaning in and doing what must be done, in the smallest most loving way.
If my life has taught me anything it is that the only way through fear is leaning into love. Not the kind of love that is sweet and syrupy and sentimental, but the kind that has you pick up the phone and listen, or that has the hard conversation, or that says “Welcome, I will share what I have”. The kind that says “I don’t know what to say but I’m with you.” The kind that says “Thank you”. The kind that takes action, big and small, not matter how inconvenient. If my training has taught me anything over the past year and a half, it is that this kind of love is the most valuable tool in a healer’s toolbox.
I will walk through this darkness into the light through the practice (because its a practice) of leaning into love. I will slip up sometimes, I might resist. Fear may get the best of me as I practice. But then I can let go of that fear and begin again.
They said the world was going to end today. I say that the world is always ending and always beginning. That every breath we take is a new beginning and new chance to lean into love and away from fear. In doing so we will raise the sun and create warmth and safety where there was once cold and pain.
Just ask my new kitten.
I have been watching the leaves. They are turning now on the trees. The are crunchy and brown under my feet. They are letting go.
This time of year, my whole body, my whole heart, my whole soul always seem to line right up with the trees, with the leaves. This letting go time. Sometimes it creates such a lightness and an opening. And sometimes it is tinged with great great grief. This time of of year I seem to more frequently remember all those I love who I’ve lost along the way. I am aware of the dreams and plans that have faded. I am so keenly awake to the shifting and changing tides, which often carry something I loved out to sea, even while they bring me new juicy goodness.
With the onslaught of school year number two I am profoundly aware of how much this shift into school has cost me. Gone are the days of lounging on a friend’s porch drinking wine by candlelight, or staying up until 2pm banging out the Pogues on my guitar. Gone is the clean house, or the fridge filled with homemade food, the house filled with friends for communal dinners. Gone is lengthy stretches of time with my girlfriends and evenings writing or making art. Gone are lazy weekends with Max. Gone is an old work life I once loved.
Instead I am in a constant balancing act, triaging. Most waking hours are spent in a mode of uber-efficiency–fitting in homework and housework and errands and cooking and work and parenting into each tiny crevice of space. Calculating how every spare moment will be spent to get it all done. Constantly making choices between essential tasks.
I am not complaining. This is a life I have chosen, a life that is opening up a whole new world for me, a life that I have dreamed about. The hours that feel so chock full are filled with profound learning and a sense of my own power and perseverance. Even still, though, there are those moments where I am knocked flat with grief for the loss of the space and time I once had. I never truly understood how truly precious that time was. Never even knew really that I had it.
And yet, I know, that the gift of this moment is the learning to find the space even in the chaos. To know how truly precious my time is and to savor the moments, however short, when I am cooking or singing or sitting on a porch. To savor the time I have to study, to clean, to shop for groceries because that time is so short I can love it even more. This is my time to know, deep in my bones, that whatever time I have is enough if I am present and fully awake.
Today, I finished a midterm early. I was suddenly gifted with an hour of space. Space I had been grieving. So instead of filling it immediately from my never ending to-do list, I put down my bags and walked outside into the rich autumn sunlight and waded into the waist high brown grass around the pond. With the world glowing in the golden late afternoon light I faced the pond and lifted my arms, moving through the qi gong exercises that never fail to set me right, place me back right here, right now. With the wind moving the grass like an ocean. With the ducks suddenly taking flight in perfect synchronicity. With the weeping willow and the clouds and the turtledoves and the grasshoppers.
This too will go. In just a few more weeks, or maybe one good rainstorm, the world will shift and golden light will turn winter blue. But for now, I take a deep deep breath and can only say thank you.
And even as I crave space and time and openness, I say thank you for this crazy chaos and manic schedule, for the way it is forcing me to stay awake and not take one single moment for granted.
And I say thank you for grief because grief calls me to cherish what is here right now because it reminds me that soon it too will pass.
I wonder if the trees grieve during these times of transition, when they realize that the big green leafy summer is ended, even as the season of glittering like diamonds is around the corner. I wonder if the trees, in a regal and somber way, acknowledge that something precious is passing, and whisper a deep thank you as that sweetness is dissolved, maybe even weep with gratitude for what is now lost. Do they kiss their leaves goodbye as they let them go? I wonder.
This summer at a neighborhood party, a friend offered me prosecco. As she furiously searched for a champagne glass, I waved her effort away. “Please don’t go to the trouble,” I said. “A juice glass is fine…”
From across the kitchen another friend piped up. “Oh no!” she said. “You give her a proper glass. That Meg she is always settling…”
At the time, I have to admit I was quite shocked. I smiled as I accepted my drink but inside I began a silent response. “Settle? Really? How about–That Meg–she is flexible, laid-back, grateful! There are a thousand other stories to tell about my willingness to accept a juice glass. Settling is NOT one that fits.”
And yet, I have learned that when there is that much charge for me, there is something hiding, wanting to be danced with. So as the summer languidly rolled on, I questioned whether my friend had uncovered something in me, something begging for attention.
Could it possible be true that sometimes, just sometimes, behind the smiling laid-back gratitude of this woman, is a girl who is happy to take what she can get because maybe, just maybe she wonders if she asks for more if she will get it? Because asking and not receiving feels too painful? Because she has gotten practiced at making do?
Truth be told, I could care less what kind of glass I drink my bubbly wine in, but this summer I allowed my friend’s words to be a bell, calling me to attention, about where I maybe WAS settling unnecessarily. Where I gave in or gave up too quickly out of habit or worse still, out of fear? Whenever I felt smug for my willingness to just roll with it, I began to ask myself “Is this truly flexibility? Or am I just afraid to ask?”
Since I was in college, I have been very lucky to be gifted with hand me down cars. As a young person working in the non-profit world, I felt so blessed not to have the burden of a car payment, felt so grateful for a functional car that came cheap. I don’t really notice what cars look like, have no opinion on features and only notice a car’s size when packing for a camping trip. In short, I have been an ideal candidate for this kind of saving in my life. And for a long time it served me well.
But somewhere along the way, that gratitude and flexibility turned into a kind of habit. A habit of thinking of myself as the kind of person who just drives whatever. I took pride in not spending my precious budget on a car–even though I was paying more at the pump and putting my mechanics children through college. When I started secretly wishing for a more energy efficient, non-scratched, or dare I say more reliable car, I shamed myself. “What happened to that flexibility girl?” I forgot that as a 43 year old professional woman who carries precious cargo called children that maybe my car needs had shifted.
This summer when my used wagon began to become unreliable, breaking down not once, not twice, but three times on the highway, when the mounting car repair expenses became burdensome, I started to ask whether maybe, just maybe, I was in the name of gratitude and flexibility settling for something less than what I needed. And maybe, I could open to the possibility that if I named it, I could find a way to have what we needed- a reliable, safe new car. One that came with a warranty. One that I could count on functioning not just for months at a time, but for years.
I began to do the research and discovered much to my surprise that for the same money I was investing in repairs, I could bring into my life a new, reliable and safe car. I was shocked. I had never asked a question big enough that even allowed me to see that I could both have everything I need without busting my budget. Settling was not required.
It was simply a matter of changing the question from “What do I think I should have?” Or “What have I always had?” to “What would serve us in this moment and how do I bring it into my life?” Its not a black and white/either or question. I can be grateful for all those used cars that saved me cash during truly hard times, for the joy and wonder they brought us with their quirks and their gifts AND I can open up to the fact that life shifts and that sometimes new shifts mean new needs and then new possibilities.
Every since I was a baby, you have loved me with a no-big-deal, unconditional kind of love–the kind of love I never doubted. No matter how nerdy I got, no matter how I failed, no matter who rejected me, you held me as dear, never questioning my worth.
As a matter of fact, I think you are the only person whose love I never doubted. Even during the most insecure moments of adolescence when everything was swirling and I questioned everything, you were never a question in my mind. I was always sure of you. I was always sure that you were sure of me. I could be steady in your presence. I know myself to be as strong as an oak when I am with you.
When I was small you held my hand when I got scared and guided me back home. Even now, I feel safe with you. Always sure you have my back. Always sure that I am everything I need, that nothing more is needed You hold me as cherished with all my rough spots, and quirks.
You are my sweet gypsy rose, who will sing with me when life is getting rocky, who will laugh with me because you know all the things that could make me cry. You are a beacon calling me home to myself whenever I wobble. You remind me that I have always been this wise and that it is simply a matter of remembering. You teach me grace, reminding me that love is simply the act of putting one foot in front of the other, pouring the coffee, walking around the lake, talking to strangers, doing the chores, making guacamole, pulling the kayak out to see the sunrise and singing in the kitchen.
Life waxes and wanes, filling up and emptying and yet you, you are still there, a light that guides me back to myself.
My prayer tonight is that you know this love and that it call you home to the wisdom you have always had, the wisdom that allows a 3 year old to love her baby cousin so fiercely, the wisdom that holds us all so steady in your presence.
May you know that you are the north star we all sail by. The one that tells us we are already home. No matter how far we quest, we are already home.
For Leenie, my cousin and hero, who has always loved me and who inspires me to be brave.
On this day 11 years ago, a sun rose in the sky and shortly after you were born. The world has been brighter ever since. You illuminate things.
Every birthday is more poignant for me, your mother. I look back at the year and can see this slow march to adulthood you are taking and I am bursting with pride and aware of how little time a mother really gets with her child after all. When they put you in my arms 18 years seemed like an eternity and now…well now…I can see how it comes in a blink of an eye–a blur of moments. You are teaching me to pay attention to each one, each miraculous one.
This was a blossoming year for you–a year of stepping into your own and really showing what you were capable of. This was the year you ran for student government and became school vice president, when you took a leadership role in school as a patrol. This is the year you inspired so many of us by doing a “goals for charity” program and raised over $2000 for Back on My Feet. This is the year you surprised all your swim coaches with your hard work and determination and burst into an advanced practice group, striving and pushing yourself and making meets.
More than all of your accomplishments I am proud of your resilience. Proud of the moments when you failed and found a way forward anyway. Like when you were trying to qualify for Junior Olympics and your goggles fell off and you had a bad race. You got back in the pool and wowed us by qualifying in the very next event–the one none of us saw coming, squeaking in by one-hundreth of a second. I was more proud that day than I would have been had you made it in every event. You know how to step up even when things aren’t going well.
You are exploring the world and discovering new ways of looking at things. This was the year you discovered that newborn babies are really cute. This is the year you discovered that a break-down of the car can be an adventure. That there are few things better than a cozy fire, a good book and a nice warm cozy blanket. One day you shocked me when you told me that you are kinda glad that Papi and I are divorced because you realized you are learning life skills your friends aren’t learning because there are just two of us in the house. You are seeing the opportunities in things others might call difficulties. I tell you how special that is. Most adults don’t know how to see life as gift, but you, you are my bell calling me to recognize that each moment–it’s all gift.
I love you so much Max. From the minute you were born you have been teaching me–teaching me to take myself less seriously, teaching me to slow down, teaching me to keep going, teaching me to appreciate every minute together, teaching me that life is constant shift and change.
I am so grateful you were born to me. It is a privilege to be your mother and hold your hand through this time. Thank you.
I was looking for my book this evening. I set it down somewhere and it seems I can’t find anything in this newly clean house. One thing I find a lot of are these little orange Nerf gun darts. They live in every nook and cranny of my house and just when I think I have cleaned them all up, there is one more. They are ubiquitous. No matter how much I fuss at Max to pick them up, no matter how much he searches there is always at least one more lurking..
Just like the pillows piled at the end of my bed–the ones that kept my made bed from looking truly neat. Max had moved them in long ago so that he had pillows when he came and climbed into my bed. He he declared himself “too big” enough to climb into bed next to me and share my pillows. And yet, sometimes when nightmares came or his room got too cold he wanted to be near his mama so he insisted on placing a pillow (or two or three) at the foot of my bed–so he would have a home there. I would put them back on his bed but they always found a way back. They were ubiquitous.
Tonight was our last night of summer vacation–School starts back tomorrow. Max will be a 5th grader–his last year of elementary school. It will be our last first day of school at the little neighborhood school around the corner. I suppose then that it was nothing short of perfect timing when at bedtime Max came to me and said, “Mom–I am going to take my pillows back to my room now. I think I am going to sleep all by myself all night this year.” It was as though he was preparing himself, preparing me, for the shifts that will take place this year as he moves from elementary school kid to middle school adolescent.
Changing and growing. The transitions are ongoing, never stopping. I know that one day, I will clean up the last nerf dart and notice that he is no longer shooting them around the house. They will be gone, just like the pillows are now gone from my bed. Just like he will one day be gone from the house, out on his own, a man.
Someone once told me that motherhood is an exercise in never getting used to anything–as soon as something begins to feel normal–or maybe drive you over the top crazy–it shifts. So I smile when I see the darts in the corners. They tell me that Max is here–that he is playing–that he is in a sweet phase of childhood and imagination. No matter how much I want to cling to that sweetness I know it will shift and so I breathe it in now while it is here. These orange darts are my bell calling me to pay attention now while it is here.
Many of my friends have sent children off to college this year. Some friends are sitting with a truly empty nest after watching older children step out on their own. Others are just starting the journey of transitioning their children out–where there were once 3 schedules to juggle there are now 2. I watch these families with teary eyes–knowing how short the years are before Max spreads his wings and I can make my bed as neat as I want and look for books without finding orange foam bits in the corners.
My cousin Jackie told me that when her youngest son moved out of the house, the thing that she missed most was the non-stop sound of a bouncing basketball. She never really noticed how it was the soundtrack to her life as the mother of teenage boys that constant thud-thud-thud. Yet, the sudden absence of it reminded her of what it was like with a house full of boys and no milk left in the fridge. That steady beat of a ball bouncing (in the driveway, in the kitchen, upstairs in his room), it was the soundtrack of love–as clear as a heartbeat.
These transitions are glorious–they are what I want for my son. I want to see him big and strong and independent. I want him to flourish and feel capable of moving out of our little nest. And yet, I pray for me, that I can sit back and watch and marvel as these changes, resisting the temptations to grab hold of his childhood and weep as it passes through my fingers. Instead, these darts tell me to open my eyes NOW and see him as his is NOW. Enjoy these moments while they last–we will never know when he will tire of little boy games. These orange darts remind me to wake up to the sweetness before it shifts and I realize I missed it.
I am halfway through the most luxurious vacation. Ask me where I am going and I will tell you I am here. Right now.
Once upon a time, I would step out of my office for lunch and watch the tourists wander the streets of DC with envy. I would wish it was me in their shoes, walking my streets without the rush, the to-do list, without my head buried in emails or lost in a conference call. I would watch the tourists and sigh and want to be them. And then I would go on vacation to some wonderful far away city and watch the locals with envy. “It must be so wonderful to walk by this river every day!” “I wonder what it’s like to come to this amazing coffee house every morning?” “I wish I knew what it feels like to pass through this park in all seasons and weather!”. I would watch the locals and sigh and want to be them. The irony (and dare I say maddness) of this was not lost on me.
Its been such an adventure filled year. It has been quite a dance, learning to balance a full time school load along with the job that pays the bills and parenting a busy 10 year. Life is so very full and truth be told, I don’t remember being happier. This year I woke up to the fact that the life I have always wanted was actually the only life I have ever had. It’s always been here this life, not “out there, beyond the to-do lists and someday achievements”, but right here. The good, the messy, the sometimes sorrowful or maddening or sweet. Its all right here. I am so blessed.
And yet, there have been times this year when the crush of the work at home, school and work was so intense I could barely breathe. What I did in those moments was breathe. And when I got real still, a tiny voice inside me would whisper, “Tend my life, just tend my life”. And I would. I would do the dishes, fold the laundry, answer email, print out my homework and smile. Smile for having had food to eat, clothes to wear, a job and the incredible privilege of returning to school as a 42 year old. In tending my life I would rediscover the joy of it.
When talking about this month I have off from school, a friend said to me, “I bet you can’t wait to get away–escape the craziness!” It was then, there in that exact moment that I knew I wanted to do nothing else but stay here and take 16 days to sink into my life, this life I am creating, this life that supports and sustains me, this everyday existence. I wanted nothing more than to wander the streets of my own life and practice being awake to the beauty of it. To tend my life and not to miss one sweet thing. I wanted to host Max’s friends for playdates and to fold the laundry and go for walks and nap. To walk to the grocery store and read books about acupuncture and have dinner with friends. Truth is I wanted to do everything I have done all year with peace in my heart, more ease, more gratitude. I wanted to use the space created by no classes and a few days off from work to really drink in my life with slow sips and deep gulps. It is here that I am practicing letting go of the agenda and the striving and the to-do list entirely and instead do what is in front of me because it needs tending, because I love it, because it is everything I ever wanted afterall.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Sometimes life can feel like an endless slog, a long to-do list, a never ending trudge up a hill. We’ve all been there. When the exhaustion is overwhelming and it feels as there is nothing left to give. When we collapse for a moment before crawling forward one tiny bit at a time.
I was once told that it helps to be present to the birds singings and the beauty of the path as you walk it. I have come to learn that it more than helps. At the end of the day, the path, the trudge, the walk, the run through the rain and the sleet and the snow, it is all there is. Our experience of it defines how we live. Not being present to the path means that we miss out on our life.
I am practicing being inspired as I trudge, seeing the hard work not as dues I have to pay, but the reward in and of itself. I am practicing letting go of the destination and simply opening my eyes as I walk forward. I am finding beauty everywhere.
I am inspired by my child, who at 10 took it on himself to raise thousands of dollars for Back on My Feet–a program that is all about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how miserable the weather. I am inspired by the men and women who get up every morning before 5 to run together because running is the only thing that saves them–some urban professionals, some newly recovering addicts, some folks who are making there way off the streets and into the lives they have always wanted to live. I am inspired by refugees who take a chance and leave everything behind to build something new for their families risking that it will all fall apart. I am inspired by the single mom who took a chance and followed her heart to become a healer.
Too often, we see the stories at the moment of glory, the rare moment when someone has reached some mountainous summit and the clouds part and they stand for a moment in the sun, catching their breath, arms outstretched to the heavens. Sometimes we watch and say–”See it was all worth if for this moment!” But that moment–well, that moment is just one moment. Every other moment matters just as much. The moment when you fall down broken on the side of the road, stitch in your side, blood on your knee is every bit as glorious. I am practicing seeing it that way.
Can you see it? The inspiration in those moments as you crawl through muck, certain that you will never see a mountain top again. Can you know that it’s not “worth it in the end?” but worth it now. Worth it because you see your own power, even when you feel most broken. Worth it because you are breathing and here. Worth it because it could be otherwise. Worth it because you keep going one step, one breath at a time.