Sundays are family dinner nights.
Nights when we gather with our community around a shared dinner table, laden with food. Nights when the house vibrates with the joyful noise of children tumbling over one another. Nights when I stop and say a silent thank you for the life that has unfolded, a life rich with people who I love.
This past Sunday was Yom Kippur. We planned dinner early so that Jackie and Eric could join us before the fast began at sundown. We put out the best china and paper napkins and Odette and I cooked Rwandan food, and salad and apple crisp and then we light candles and fill the house with music and golden light.
As the sun goes down, we sit together on the floor of the living room, stuffed from too much food, children climbing over each other like puppies. And then as the neighborhood grew dark, we grab the left over bread, light tapers and walk down the street, out to the park, across the field to the bridge. The wooden bridge over the creek.
In daylight, this creek is full of preschoolers throwing rocks. When Max was small we would come here and I would sit on the big boulders on the side and watch him wade into the water–looking for pebbles. He learned to skip rocks here. My impatient sigh lost in the bubble of the water, in the murmur of the play. When the tension in the house was too much, when I had no idea how to breathe, we came to the creek. And I always, somehow found the inhale by its banks. This creek taught me how to breathe.
But now, the creek is silent, black. We cannot even see it but we all know it is there. We know, that if we dropped a rock off this bridge now, we would hear a loud plop. Faith, I suppose. Or deep intimate familiarity. Maybe a bit of both.
Jackie reads the Tashlich service. And one by one, we each think of the things we would rather leave behind, the things we want to fall away, the things we want to give to the dark, to the river. Resentment, envy, unkind words. The illusion of being stuck. Lack of faith. Impatience. Ugliness. Sorrow. We threw our breadcrumbs into the river and with each crumb we let go, if only a tiny bit, of that which was weighing us down. It falls into the blackness, into the creek. It is carried away, to be food for fish or maybe migrating ducks, to return to a useful purpose.
Hand in hand, arm in arm, we wander back up the street, lighter. It is time for homework, for bed, for getting ready for the week. It is time to move on. And joyfully we did. We do. We will.
the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves
For two and a half hours I have been sitting here, perfectly still, wondering. Because I don’t know how else I can explain that I am moved to the point of not being able to move.
Two weeks or so ago, I was walking with my friend Stephen down the street. “How is your brother?”, he asked me. “I don’t know” I said, looking down. “I don’t really talk to him these days. In fact,” I said looking up at the sky, “I haven’t really seen him in a year and a half.” My brother is a policeman and he lives far away in a big big city. I come through town only now and again. Its so hard to drive so far with a small child. Its so hard, as a single mom, with a life so full, to get away. The few times I have made it through in the last year and a half, he has been working. He made an arrest. He was sleeping at the precinct. Or he was out of town. Its hard for a policeman in a hardened city, with a life so full to get away.
But then, suddenly, he was here. Walking through the door at my friend’s house in Silver Spring. Surprising me at a party his wife had planned from 300 miles away. Suddenly I was dancing with him like we did when we were teens, while Jeff, Jamie and Randy played music. Everything that is sweet about my childhood met everything that is sweet about my grownup life. I swung my gorgeous nephew around and around to the sounds of homemade music played in a living room and laughed and laughed.
I danced and danced with my dad, with my cousins, with my neighbors, with my kindergarden best friend, with Odette, my past, my present and the future all colliding into one perfect now.
I don’t know how she found them all. My sister-in-law. A detective’s wife. But she found my work friends, my friends from the neighborhood, my soulsisters, friends flung far and wide. Friends she had only heard about in passing. She caught their names as I spun my tales and tucked them in her heart. And she is sitting on a bar stool with her son sleeping on her lap. And I love you just doesn’t seem to be enough.
Erica and Eileen drove me home. Max would stay at the hotel with his cousins. He is squeezing every last bit of love out of their visit as he can. I still couldn’t believe my eyes-couldn’t that they were here in my living room–these loved ones of mine who live so far away. “By the time it really sinks in that you are here you will be gone” I said mournfully. I look at them with relish. I drink them in while I can.
I wonder if maybe I can put some of this love in tupperwear and freeze it, pull it out like soup on a cold and rainy day. If I could, then maybe I could sleep.
I am having to rework so many stories tonight. The thing about surprise parties is that they surprise you. And the party is only the first surprise.
Sometimes the best way to unstick yourself is to go back and touch an old dream before it was born. To go back and read what you wrote, once upon a time, about how someday, maybe you wish you might get to do it. And then to realize that ever since you wrote it down you have been taking baby steps in that direction, steadily forward, onward never stopping.
Sometimes the most important thing to realize that the word “stuck” is a sticky tricky word, and often it glues you to a perspective when really you are moving.
A friend of mine recently inspired me to go back and look at the Mondo Beyondo list I made several years ago, when I first began to believe that dreams might actually come true. I wrote that list when Juan and I were separating, when the world had fallen apart and I was block by block imagining my life exactly as I wanted it to be, and without even realizing it, block by block building its foundation, underground, out of sight, but there.
Many of my old dreams are not yet realized in the way that is “ta-da, DONE” but I am realizing that they are active, alive, in progress and that I am living the life I always dreamed of, even if it looks like I am swimming in place against a current, even if it feels I am not moving.
Once, I looked at a soulsister talking about dreams and I said offhandedly, trying to sound hopeful when I was maybe drowning in an inch of despair. “I am getting there…” I choked. She grabbed my face in her sweet hands and held it like a mother, looking deep in my blue eyes with hers.
“There is no arriving, there is no there…there is only here, now. You can’t arrive because you are in fact, already here. Don’t you get it…you are living your dream right now–it is unfolding as we speak”
Once upon a time, I only dreamt about writing publicly. Once upon a time I dreamt of owning a guitar and making music of my own. Once upon a time I dreamt of dancing freely while people I loved played music for me. Once upon a time I dreamt of having community that is messy, authentic, deep and true. These dreams are not my future–they are my present…became my present the minute I wrote them down, blessed them and blew them like kisses up to the heavens. With that very first step, I made them real.
There are things I need to do. I need to raise money for school to take this dream of being a healer to its next step. I need to do other seemingly impossible things too. I am not quite sure how I will do it, but the reality is it is happening, maybe at a glacial pace, maybe like a flower unfolding.
I sit and watch and I see nothing moving. I scream that the flower is stuck, but look now at her petals stretching out to the sun, tiny bit by tiny bit. Imperceptible perhaps but moving. A tiny shimmer, a tiny shift…one by one they add up to a gentle current that carries us.
The dreams I have now are deeper, fuller expressions of the dreams I once had. They are not all that different and truth is, they are not far away from where I am now, even though it seems so far. The only thing to do is to get up in the morning and do what I do, what I can do, even if I don’t think it is changing much of anything just yet, changing the view from time to time. Get and idea and explore it, play with the possibility and see where it leads. And take a step. Small as it may be.
This dream I have, it is living me, one tiny moment, one imperceptible breath at a time.
Sometimes life feels like a merry-go-round.
Same dreams and ideas
Same excuses for why not
Same exercises to unstick oneself
Same ambivalence, frustration
Same questions without answers
Its one big long walk around in a circle, over and over and over the same terrain
Same damn walk in the same familiar woods
Does this mean that I am lost?
Or does it mean I am found over and over again?
Or does it simply mean that this place, this walk, this life, this small patch of earth I tread upon is where I am right now?
Maybe it means nothing at all but this.
I am running out of stories…
I am running out of hope…
I am running out of excuses…
I am running out of breath.
I am indeed running and all I have
is this the pounding of my footsteps along the same old beaten path
Its the soundtrack of my life, these footsteps.
Once upon a time I went to walk a labyrinth. It was made of stones in a mowed meadow. I visited this June after weeks of summer rains. The grass had grown. The stones had sunk into the mud. It was not clear, anymore, which way the path really went. I literally walked around and around the same path over and over again,–stuck in a circle never moving further in or out. Breaking all my expectations about labyrinths. Just going round and round and round.
I would have circled for hours in the same funk I can touch right now. But I got down on my hands and knees and felt the way, felt for stones, hidden or buried, that might point the right way. I couldn’t see the path but I knew that with my nose down on the ground, with my knees dirty, with my perspective shifted I might just find it. I did. I crawled all the way into the center of that labyrinth that day.
On my knees in Silver Spring, in the mud and grass, feeling along for the slight turn of a stone to show me the way to go next. I may write about it more concretely one of these days, the fact that I have identified a dream but I am flummoxed about where to go next. I may write about the need for a practical solution. For for now I write about being dizzy and going round and round in the faith that one day I will naturally simply know where to go next.
On Thursday night I went out to hear live music. I have wanted to see Yo La Tengo live for years. I promised myself I would do it before I turned 40. I managed the task with just hours to spare.
After a great show, I was driving home with my friend. I suddenly looked at the clock as my chest started to tighten. It was 11:15. “Forty-five minutes” I said.
“Until what?” he asked.
I looked at him incredulously. “Until I turn 40.” This was so huge to me, so big. I could not believe that someone so close to me had not noticed.
The trip home was excruciating. I hadn’t hired a babysitter. My ex was at home with Max and I knew that I would face him as the clock struck midnight. Worse yet, when he left I would face the absence of him.
The last ten years were pressing in on me with each passing minute. I got home, kicked out Juan with a thanks and a wave, and sat down with 10 minutes left.
I turned 30 without much flourish, drama or even thought. I was a work-aholic then. I was on a business trip. I came home to a sweet, but rather uneventful weekend with my husband. Turning 30 meant being a grown up and I was ready to embrace responsibility and stability.
Over the next ten years, I was swept along, along a career path, a partnership, and eventually into motherhood. I struggled with post-partum depression. I grew as a mother, I watched my marriage fall apart, I came to peace with work, I learned to be alone, I developed a community, I lost my faith and gained it over and over again. I found my heart, I found my soul, I gave up faking it and embraced my messy but authentic self, stopped looking for the ending and just immersed myself in the adventure.
And at 11:50, I sat alone as I felt myself standing at some kind of doorway, gateway, a new beginning or maybe just a continuation of the same old road. It felt heavy and strange and bigger than normal.
I was glad Juan left. I needed to face this myself. Even more than that, I needed him not to be there. Yet, to be honest, I felt as lonely as I did the first night that Juan walked out of my house. I cried. Not because I was turning 40. I cried for grief, and joy, for all that had passed over the last 10 years. Then I blessed those memories and blew them like kisses out the window.
Eventually I slept. And then I woke up. And it was a new day.
My 40th birthday fell on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was also the 18th day of the month. In Hebrew, the word for Chai or “Life” and the word for the number 18 are the same. When the new year falls on the 18th, she told me, it is especially lucky. For me to turn 40 on such a day…is triply lucky. A blessing of the most wonderful kind.
And so, it was perfectly appropriate that I would spend my 40th birthday, gathered around the table with dear friends, passing the challah and dipping apples into honey. Instead of blowing out birthday candles, I would light them.
Barukh atah Adonai E1oheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat
Blessed are you, Lord God, who brings Light into the World, into the Universe.
Never have those words meant more to me. As I lit the candles I understood. All the generations before seemed to touch me on my shoulder. Bring the light into the house. Bring the light into the world.
I cannot help but believe that I am standing at at the foot of a mountain range, both magical and magnificent. There is no other way to go but walk, step forward, trust my life, trust the path.
Let it carry me home. To the light.
On Sunday, a woman stood up in Quaker Meeting and she said, “Love is the first motion”. She was quoting John Woolman. I had never heard that quote before and I have been rolling it around, fingering it like beads in a mandala, focusing my meditation on it.
Love is the first motion.
If I am guided by love, how will my actions be different. How will I respond: to my child, the tired friend, the lonely person on the street. How is this different than when my first motion is frustration, annoyance or fear. What does it take to pause, take a step back and first love. How does it open things up, break up dams.
A colleague and friend did something maddening this week. The what is not important. Really, at the end of the day it was not a big deal but it pushed my buttons in 47 different ways. It was presumptuous. But her motivation was only pure love and knowing that it made it so much easier to let go of my issues and sink into the kindness of what she was doing, and then gently move in to express my different view. I could have, might have, almost hurt her terribly had I let my first action be frustration, anger or criticism. When love is the first motion, we can speak kindly, openly and let go of the stuff that isn’t really all that important and create shifts that make room for us all.
Very soon I will be turning 40. I am not freaked out by the number. But I am profoundly aware of the milestone. Something about those numbers that end with zero can prompt one to look forward and backward and side to side. Something about a number that ends with zero is prompting me to look back at what I have learned over the last ten, damn…40 years of my life. Something about a number that ends with zero can make me question what I have, what I am, and why it is not what I had hoped it would be.
Some interesting and odd coincidences have sprung up like birthday gifts from the Gods this week. Sweet opportunities to touch pieces of my childhood and hold them close. In doing so I have realized that it is a myth to bundle up our experiences and put them in boxes labeled “long ago”. We live them every day. The people we loved stay with us, even after they have gone, even if we haven’t thought of them in years. Every kindness lingers and has the power to guide us. We breathe in love and it changes us bit by bit.
Once upon a time, someone taught me to chop carrots. Once upon a time someone taught me to kiss. Once upon a time, someone played a beautiful song for me. Once upon a time someone held me for what seemed like an eternity. Once upon a time, someone giggled with me all night. I am still able to access the joy of all of these moments. Everyone of these moments is a cornerstone on which my joyful life is now built.
All these moments–they still exist, like soundwaves that keep bouncing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth–amplifying, shifting. Here.
Understanding this, I am suddenly unabashedly aware that that there is no past, no future–just the present. There is never too early, or too late. This moment is the perfect one, the only one that exists. Seize it, conquer it in the name of kindness–let love be the first motion, the starting point, the beginning.
If I have learned anything it is the wisdom of this beautiful simple phrase. Love is the first motion. It is the last motion too. May it be my every in-breath, my every exhale.
It is hard for me to believe that it was eight years ago this morning that I first held you and called you by your name. Now you have to contort and fold yourself up to try and fit into my lap. Like a Chinese acrobat you always manage to do it. We have both grown so much since that day eight years ago.
I have said this before but being your mama has been the greatest adventure of my life. And you dear boy have lived every minute of your last year as though its been a great adventure. I have learned so much from you about jumping into life with both feet and getting my heart, soul and whole body soaked.
I am so impressed the way that you embrace things that are hard and scary and push through. Like on your first day of hockey, you came off the ice at a break close to tears because it was so hard. You hadn’t realized how tough it would be. A lot of boys quit that day but you got back out there and you were the first kid on the ice each Saturday morning.
This is the year you fell in love with Harry Potter. Now every pencil, every Tinker Toy, every piece of bamboo that we find is a wand and you are making the whole world sparkle with magic. This is the year you decided to grow your gorgeous hair long and have become the envy of most of the women in our town. This is the year that you woke up early every morning during hockey season to check the NHL stats–see what happened the night before. This is the year that you were the Addition Champion of the World (or at least of first grade) four times in a row.
Last night we put on Jack Johnson and danced in loops around the living room. You walked on your hands to “Upside Down”. You are always reminding me to shift my perspective.
I am such a girly-girl with my knitting and my soul sisters and all that. You have woken up a whole new piece of myself, a piece that I thought went by the way when I grew up–the part that loves hockey, the part that enjoys wrestling, the part that enjoys tromping through the mud and rolling on the ground and searching for frogs and toads. You have come to me and I know that as a result of this short time I get to be your mama, I am becoming more myself.
Eight years ago I started to really understand about love. Every day I learn more thanks to you.
You are my heart’s delight. Happy birthday dear boy.
Every year it helps. I sleep in the woods. Long deep sleeps to the sounds of crickets and bullfrogs, with the breeze rustling the tent. It helps me transition.
This time of year is hard. I long for the internal space of autumn and winter but its always so hard to let go of the big beautiful bountiful round juicy summer–the late evenings at the pool or hanging out on a porch watching fireflies and sharing wine, the spontaneous community that seems to erupt when we are all out in summertime. I am a social girl and I am drawn round the fire of summer, the stories, the laughter, the adventure.
It is always so hard to let it go, to exhale that gorgeous summer and breath in the autumn coming round the bend. It feels like a loss, as though I lost the way and I am now somewhere else–not where I need to be. The fall always feels like a tumble.
But sleeping under the trees, it puts me right. The early dark, the migrating water birds singing their goodbyes, the leaves that are already starting to turn–it all whispers to me that this is exactly where need to be–this moment, this space. This letting go is the gift.
Saturday was the “end of summer” camp out at the pool. Max had been waiting for this moment all summer long. The thought of swimming in the pool until midnight tickled him, the thought of not having to leave his precious pool when the day was done. Though we woke up to a sky full of grey clouds, as we ran our errands the sky started to clear, the sun peaked out, then finally burst out in full hot humid August glory. A perfect night for sleeping poolside. We breathed a sigh of relief.
As the day turned to evening though, as I lounged at the pool, it suddenly felt cool. At first it was a welcome relief from the August heat but then it started to warn of a change in the weather. I looked at my neighbor lounging next to me. “It will blow over” I said. He nodded solemnly. We checked the doppler map on my iphone just to be sure. We saw the storm coming straight at us. “It will blow over” we said nervously, already feeling the crushing weight of the children’s disappointment looming. “Let’s stay”
As we started to cook dinner we felt it, the few drops of rain. “It must be from the trees” we speculated. The lifeguards kept the pool open. No thunder, no lightening, its fine. Too early to call it a night. “We could always go home” we rationalized. “But not now, let’s stay. Its bound to blow over.”
A few hours later we were huddled in the gazebo. A few families had left not wanting to set up their tents in the lashing rain. The rest of us shared food and drinks and told stories and laughed while the kids slid down the hill in the mud and rolled around like little pigs, jumping into the pool when the life guards deemed that the rain was not too heavy. “It will blow over” I laughed over my wine. “Maybe not until tomorrow but it will eventually. It always does.” When it slowed down enough to start the campfire we wiped off chairs and huddled around the warmth, breathing in the magic and saying, “Yes…we knew it would blow over.”
It was after midnight that a showered and exhausted Max was tucked into his sleeping bag, snuggled up against a night totally unexpected, but thrilling never the less. I whispered to him the only mama wisdom that seemed to matter at that moment.
“We should never be afraid of the storms. They carry us to places we never would have journeyed, if only we are brave enough to stay.”